Dr. J. Jayalalithaa, an icon

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A Woman’s era (1948-2016)

I don’t find it easy to write. Words wouldn’t come or if they do, they are not the right words. I am probably just one of the millions of mourners who is in the process of realizing human mortality.

These are sad times indeed for a great Indian life have come to an end. She never sought to lead but in a way destined to. Today she leaves behind a state she nurtured. Despite a few shortcomings Dr. Jayalalithaa always helped tamilians believe that for TN, the best was yet to come. At this time of grief and depression we ought to comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for her too.

Jayalalithaa’s three characteristics that I consider incredible are 1) Persistence- Reaching the top wasn’t a task that demanded a couple of years- It was her life 2) self-control over emotions – she never boiled over or reacted 3) Extremely ambitious – she was willing to go an extra mile or take risks if need be.

The more affection she received and respect she commanded, her desire to secure a place in history also seemed to grow day by day and her natural charisma helped her advance her political career.

Totally self-made, there seemed to be no influence of her parents or acquaintances on anything she was reluctantly but inexorably drawn into. Call her “The Doughty Fighter” or “The Iron Lady” or “A Polyglot” or “Amma” or “Puratchi thalaivi” or “A riddle wrapped in an enigma” Jayalalithaa won the hearts of the people with her greatness and goodness. She knew to transcend caste and religion. As with many issues that come wrapped in controversy, the origin of the dispute gets relegated to the margins and politics takes over. This is what happened when MGR’s Party was split into two, one headed by his wife Janaki and another by Iron lady J jayalalithaa. It’s no secret that she was mentally and physically tortured by people who feared her rise soon after MGR’s demise. Still it wasn’t in her nature to bite dust. Jayalalithaa constantly reminded herself that there would come the day when she would rise against all odds, the day when TN would look up to her and count on her as the undisputed leader. Few years later the time had come, not suddenly or in an unplanned fashion but as things are destined to happen. Thus, there were a series of reasons and forces because of which her drive for success was created. It was probably MGR who inspired and motivated her to get into politics vigorously and passionately but that she exceeded her mentor in political accomplishments is known to all. At times though her whimsical temperament got the better of her, she continued to be looked upon as the best partner for development by the BJP and congress. Creating a positive influence in the life of the downtrodden was her cup of tea. An innate tendency she had for nurturing and taking care of her own people and her willingness to go the extra mile to sustain the very society she belongs to was reflected in the form of services and products. In her regime, projects were not meant to be grandiose but more personal to ensure the poor are provided with the basic essentials of daily living. People saw God in her.

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In the eyes of those who doubted her leadership, her first reign 1991-96 was not regarded a success but it helped her with redefining of herself which was necessary to carve a niche for herself in TN politics. Perhaps most importantly Jayalalithaa’s her chief ministerial restraint, solemnity, judiciousness and on and off nonpartisan stance created an image of greatness or dignity that surrounds her to date. Also, although Jayalalithaa hated partisanship she tolerated dissent, vicious attacks on her reputation, name, even modesty and sometimes a divisive press- all in the interest of freedom and may be the Party too. Her very journey addressed issues like mothers and daughters, the self, sexuality, identity, struggle and victory.

Sadly some personal associations didn’t augur well that led to her brief downfall around the mid 1990s helping Jayalalithaa to take strong decisions. The differences were so visible and real, but because of the way Jayalalithaa conducted herself taught us that she values her political convictions and her commitment to democracy more than friendships with hidden agendas. Yet those were kind of familial differences; deep and fierce as only family differences can be, but also intimate to an extent. Today as we stand bewildered and shaken, her example reminds us that we must move forward with resolve and honesty. Playing her cards well, be it expressing her support in releasing the Rajiv Gandhi murder convicts or getting water from Karnataka or the Mullaiperiyar dam issue, Jayalalithaa seemed like a stroke of luck for TN.

Essentially a private person, Jayalalithaa hated being viewed as a celebrity. To journalists with provoking queries she came across as a ‘Devil’s advocate’. Such attitude is the result of the credibility of the one with who Jayalalithaa interacts with. She was matured enough to know that there are always some bad apples in the media basket. However, Jayalalithaa’s rendezvous with Simi Garewal portrayed her as a person with all charm and geniality, full of genuine pleasure at being able to recall old memories, older acquaintances and friends. In fact she pulsated with her dramatis personae.

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For Jayalalithaa it was twice as hard to get through the male dominated TN political arena as she had her share of harassments. She never displayed emotions in public or gave in. But she fought back instead. But for her intelligence and pragmatism, Jayalalithaa would never have achieved all she did by way of hard work, culture, enlightenment and different levels of maturity. Now that Jayalalithaa is no more, it is not surely easy for us to accept and admit that Jayalalithaa was once convicted in disproportionate assets case but as we all are aware law takes its own course hopefully for the other three to prove their innocence. Strong character and greatness she demonstrated continuously and constantly resulted in exceptional leadership sometimes giving the people a feast to their eyes.

If there were times Jayalalithaa was branded as an unreliable coalition partner then we ought to know there are situations when absurdity is reality and reality is absurd and it’s called politics.

Her life attempts to push the boundaries of common knowledge, locating the reasons for her secrecy, rationalisation of brutality and denial of her own anger, not just in her commitment to political ideals of serving the people or the ideology of the self but should be an attempt to recapture the illusion of a perfect life she craved for even as a child. Hence, she neither cared for the male psyche – rational or irrational- for good or bad nor did she seem to trust any. As a result she was surrounded by opponents and opportunists. What a sight to see male leaders, cabinet ministers prostrating at her feet!

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When she combined exceptional humanity and sacrifice with a goal that deeply or positively influenced the lives of large number of people, she acquired a demi God status that would’ve prompted people act the way they did.

Amma will be missed by those who know her, by TN that she served so proudly and loved so deeply and also by those who have a life because of the policies she pursued. This is the time, a rare time, that at different places in the country, people are thinking in a similar way. That is, we are all living through a nightmare from which we might wake up and live in a state of shock until time heals.

‘She seized every moment, embraced every challenge and lived life to its fullest’ – This is how Jayalalithaa will be remembered.
Dr. Elsa Lycias Joel

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