Seldom are actresses, especially the very successful ones, remembered for anything other than what they portrayed themselves to be in certain iconic movies. Seldom being merely ‘rare’, there are exceptions & both the exceptions which my memory serves me anon, come from Thamizh Nadu, an unenviable state much envied, who are M.S.Subbulakshmi and Selvi Jayalalitha!
The former for her music and the latter for her politics.
Even in her seductive songs in Thamizh movies, she was willing to go with the man, who was not only righteous but unafraid of his righteousness. A trait she probably imbibed through admiring that trait in her men. Her co-star MGR went beyond the screen and when he needed a woman who could advise him in international politics, & national alignment in politics, within the confines of his private chambers, she slipped in effortlessly into that role and was subsequently made the Propaganda Secretary (Thamizh literal translation would be ‘secretary who spreads the policy’). She blossomed into a public speaker carrying the message of AIADMK, as propounded by MGR, but aesthetically presented by Jayalalitha; further enhancing MGR’s macho image. There is no moral certificate better than the one issued by an intelligent and good looking woman, who works for a man. That certificate, was seen as a guillotine to those prurient thoughts which pervade the onlooker’s mind. She neither had the Dravidian complexion, nor was she from the ‘Dravidian’ stock. But how does it matter, when you are at the threshold of a bequest? Line and lineage cannot give Power in a democracy, it is the opinion of the many, which when electorally harnessed, would bring power! She learnt that early, not only that she learnt that lesson, but wanted to capture it herself. Her joy was double when she took it out of her mentor’s spouse and thereby was decorated with the mantle of the two leaves electoral symbol of MGR. A posthumous bequest, given to the winner of the succession battle. Mrs. Janaki Ramachandran surrendered the party and admitted Selvi Jayalalitha as the leader of AIADMK.
If Mr. Karunanidhi sat on the vacated imperial steed of C.N. Annadurai and made it as the CM much before he won at the hustings in his own name, Jayalalitha had no such luxury, she had to wait for two years to face elections, which was more for determining who was to get the electoral symbol of MGR. She became an opposition leader before she was catapulted to the CM ship either through vagaries of fortune or cunning! She had to fight it through with not only the CM, but also the Governor of TN. Chandrasekhar when he got the Karunanidhi government dismissed, the people of TN, who saw her tenacity in pursuing politics, gave her a chance in 1991.
She was declared the true legatee of the MGR phenomenon, but for her it was merely a stepping stone for bringing in a philosophy of moderate culture to TN politics through the WORD.
The WORD, whether it be the government order or the religious texts or even movie script, meant not a professional necessity but she saw it as an expression in cold stone the Supreme Will legitimately expressed by the people, or God or the Director of the movie. She did not exploit the word for her gains, but submitted to the power of the word. The word outlives mortal aspirations, social limitations and even one’s own life! This was her mantra. She wanted the appropriate authority to pronounce the Word. She insisted on getting an order of the Supreme Court in Cauvery matter, when other politicians were vying to go for an amicable settlement with their counterparts, she wanted an authoritative pronouncement for the posterity. She gave closure to issues from the highest authority based on reasons. When she got included the positive discrimination for the Backward castes in the IX schedule of the Constitution, none imagined the import of such inclusion till the other states started clamouring for similar inclusion.
Jayalalitha went beyond the state and was the first national leader from a regional party from TN. Her exposure early to the Rajya Sabha, made her see the state not as a part of India but as a geographic division with subjects assigned by the constitution for protecting the geographic and cultural integrity of states. The fake Tamil nationalism just petered out! She did not fight such forces instead showed the polestar of growth through togetherness of the nation and made her followers choose a path of integration. It was this silent leading which won her the fourth term against the incumbency and the lies propagated by her detractors.
The only problem with her was that she could never understand why human beings could not stand by their commitment, and became betrayers of causes and people. She was fortitudinous! Courage can push ahead but it cannot stay its ground like Horatio on the bridge over the Tiber. The cause could be lost, but that she stood till the end for the cause could never be in doubt. That was Jayalalitha, she staked it out for records. She marked the place from where she stood her ground and lost, for future reference, with a hope that someday in future like Panipat, would be associated with her. When the LTTE was the holy cow in TN, the way she steered her party by being firm and the vindication which followed decades later is a monument to not her foresight as much as her ability to take a stand on principle, against public sentiments.
If one cannot choose one’s neighbours, one can never choose one’s opponents. Her opponents were declared atheists, striving for upliftment of the ‘Dravidian’ downtrodden masses – to be contrasted with the ‘Aryan’ aka Brahmins of TAMILNADU. The breakaway admk under MGR was headed by a Menon, who had sympathised with the Dravidian politics of Anna. It was symbiotic, MGR lent glamour and the DMK honchos like Anna and Karunanidhi lent their message filled script writing skills for his movies. But Jayalalitha had no such ideological moorings, she saw in MGR, a single window for her progress both cinematically and politically. Thus by aligning with MGR, she inherited a powerful adversary with no baggage that MGR came with, consequently AIADMK was a shell into which Jayalalitha, a Brahmin lady, infused her own agenda and sidetracked, intentional or otherwise would be a polemic, the original agenda of the Dravidian parties, which saw Brahmins as their avowed detractors.
She quickly hung the brasen serpent of growth and populist schemes which outdid the DMK promises. She was able to attract the law-abiding and hardworking labour classes of TN with ease. Violence and disruptive behaviour receded. Jayalalitha united people more on orderliness and a powerful police, which was spared from local political interference. People started seeing the institutions getting the better of personal connections, at the local level. In a democracy, this infusion of credibility in its institutions, is the highest achievement, although people were ignorant of who were manning those bureaucratic points – which was what DMK was obsessed with.
The spirit of the times also helped the lady immensely, middle class aspirations of getting their children educated as professional engineers became a reality through the reasonable capitation fee payable to those private engineering colleges. Middle classes were interested in incremental growth with assurance of peace through the institution of the police. The second, she provided and the former, during the evolutionary process happened and she should consider herself lucky that she had been dealt a hand, to play the politics which suited her.
Violence can be best deflected only through structured growth prospects. This happened and she encashed it politically. It is the way she encashed it that set her apart, not sneakingly, but by promoting the harnessing of the Tamil labour with the Telugu capital. The Telugu is not distinct from the Tamil, if the former represent entrepreneurial skills, the latter represented the skilled labour. Only land had to be provided and she did that, as the head of the state government. This harnessing kept TN among the top few states, not living off the minimum support prices, fixed by the centre, but through creation of a climate conducive for labour and capital to lie together in harmony for manufacturing activities. The labour problems of the period prior to the nineties disappeared along with the dwindling of the communist ideology and its parties. Zeitgeist had set in and properly harnessed. The events evolved, but it was her ability to read books and grasp the evolving situations which made her decide the way she did which went down well with the people of TN.
Finally and most importantly, she was SINCERE, in the political world of nimble turn arounds, she stated clearly what she wanted and forcefully pushed it. This contributed to her becoming an accomplisher of the projects undertaken by her.
It has been a complaint that she had filed too many cases against the media and had strait-jacketed the media. But in a political milieu of script writers, it wasn’t uncommon to fill up facts with imaginative details quite detrimental to the administration. Hence to get the media to taste the medicine of judicial procedural delays with injunctions, wasn’t a bad idea, methinks!
To say that Jayalalitha stole the hearts through doles and watering holes of TASMAC, is too naive, especially an electorate which not only distinguished the Parliamentary election from the Legislative of 1980, but was wise enough to listen and read all the whatsapp blitzkreig of goebbelsian propaganda let loose in the 2016 Assembly elections and yet choose to persist with the incumbent!
In her death too, she has accomplished dying in office thereby ensuring longevity to her legacy. Probably after Anna, in TN she might end up having the largest cortège!