JAYA: The Iron Lady of Tamil Nadu

Jayalalithaa is also likely to contest from the Radhakrishnan Nagar assembly constituency and get re-elected to the assembly…writes Venkatachari Jagannathan 

Jayalalitha pays tribute to  MGR
Jayalalitha pays tribute to MGR

 J. Jayalalithaa, often described as the ‘Iron Lady of Tamil Nadu’, returned to power on Saturday – after a seven month break that ended when she was acquitted in a corruption case, bringing joy to her party cadres and an apparent relief to several sections of the people.

Jayalalithaa was sworn-in as chief minister for the fifth time on Saturday. According to her supporters, the 67-year old actor-turned politician is riding back on an electoral wave after her acquittal by the Karnataka High Court in the disproportionate assets case. But, she does face a few immediate challenges.

“The first task before her is to restore governance that was visibly absent in the state since September 27, 2014. Though there was a government, ministers showed disinterest in governance,” Ramu Manivannan, professor of political science at the University of Madras, told IANS.

According to him, the clearing of her name in the disproportionate assets case by the court is certainly a big advantage, but that cannot be the sole plank on which Jayalalithaa can win the next election.

Many feel, the O. Panneerselvam government could have maintained the tempo that was built by Jayalalithaa by continuing the welfare measures and governance in her name.

Till September 27, 2014, all was going well for Jayalalithaa, who had come to power for the third time in 2011 after winning with a massive majority of 217 out of the state’s 234 assembly seats.

After that, the government had won in the Supreme Court a case against Kerala relating to the water storage level in the Mullaperiyar Dam. This was an additional feather in the cap of state’s earlier legal victories like forcing the central government to gazette the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in February 2013, after decades of meandering.

In 2014, Jayalalithaa practically reduced the oppostion to a non-entity at the centre by winning 37 out of 39 seats in the Lok Sabha. The opposition parties were in a state of disarray.

AIADMK senior leader Panneerselvam who became the chief minister after Jayalalithaa lost her chief ministerial post and assembly seat following her conviction by a trial court in Bangalore in September 2014 was indecisive. Even welfare measures of Jayalalithaa government like opening of new subsidised Amma Canteen, inauguration of the metro-rail system and others got delayed giving ammunition to the opposition parties to fire their guns at the ruling party.

This made main opposition party DMK’s heir apparent M.K. Stalin write an open letter to Panneerselvam. “Tamil Nadu is in the ICU and its vital signs are a cause for extreme concern,” he wrote. The government also twice postponed the much-expected Global Investors Meet after holding roadshows overseas and spending around Rs.100 crore on it.

Industry turned cautious about investing in the state because of the political drift. The government seemed to have come to a standstill.

Suicide of engineer, Muthukumarasamy, owing to alleged pressure from former Agriculture Minister Agri S.S. Krishnamoorthy’s office to appoint certain people as drivers cost the minister his job.  Like many others, Manivannan said Jayalalithaa has the calibre to deliver on governance.

It is expected that her government would come out with several welfare schemes under the Amma brand. Already items like food, bottled water, medicines, cement are being sold by the government under the Amma brand.

Jayalalithaa is also likely to contest from the Radhakrishnan Nagar assembly constituency and get re-elected to the assembly. She was born in Karnataka Feb 2, 1948 into an Iyengar family. Jayalalithaa moved to Chennai with her mother who started acting in movies.
A bright student Jayalalithaa studied at the Bishop Cotton Girl’s High School in Bangalore and another Christian convent, Church Park, in Chennai. Jayalalithaa entered the movie world at the age of 16 in a Kannada movie. Her first Tamil movie was the “Vennira Aadai”.
The success of “Aayirathil Oruvan” pairing with the legendary M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) turned Jayalalithaa into a leading heroine in Tamil movies. She acted in over 100 films mostly in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. A charismatic leader who is at home in Tamil, English and Hindi (a rare quality in Tamil Nadu politics), Jayalalithaa has also sung many songs and written several stories.

Few could have predicted Jayalalithaa’s meteoric rise in the Tamil Nadu politics. Despite being a Brahmin by birth – a disadvantage in the state – Jayalalithaa’s political career graph only went up.

In keeping with the sycophancy culture in several political parties, her party leaders are literally at her feet. The mere sight of a helicopter carrying Jayalalithaa is enough for her cabinet ministers to bow.

As political commentator Cho Ramaswamy puts it, Jayalalithaa “is really a phenomenon”.

AIADMK founder-leader MGR made Jayalalithaa the party’s propaganda secretary in the early 1980s. In 1984, she entered the Rajya Sabha.

Deciding to remain single, Jayalalithaa was elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly for the first time in 1989. Two years later, she became the chief minister, sweeping the election of 1991 held in the wake of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

She lost her huge mandate within five years amid corruption charges. She returned to power in 2001.

In late 1990s, Jayalalithaa withdrew her party’s support to the 13-month BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the centre.

Incidentally most of the parties that fought the 2011 assembly elections are not with her now, including the DMDK.

Political pundits now say that Jayalalithaa’s acquittal will allow her to bounce back with additional force.

“With the court acquitting Jayalalithaa of all charges, there is nothing to stop the AIADMK juggernaut from rolling down on the opposition in the 2016 assembly elections,” political analyst Gnani Sankaran had told IANS.

According to political observers, the AIADMK may go it alone in the assembly elections, as it did in the Lok Sabha elections.

The DMK may try to forge an alliance with parties other than the Congress and the BJP. But with its leaders – A. Raja, Kanimozhi and Dayanidhi Maran – under trial in the 2G scam, it would be difficult for the party to pose a serious challenge to the AIADMK.

But a shadow still lies across her future. The prosecution in the disproportionate case says that an “arithmetical error” had made the judge in Karnataka come to the wrong conclusion about her innocence.

That is unclear at present. What is clear though, is that Jayalalithaa is back as the chief minister for the fifth time and will make efforts to stay there for a long, long time.