That Jayalalithaa is no more is a fact which the AIADMK and its hundreds of thousands of cadre and leaders may never be able to come to terms with, just like the huge void she leaves in the political landscape of Tamil Nadu may never get filled. Jaya was just not another powerful politician. She emerged and remained an enigmatic, unique and even mysterious phenomenon in politics.
She cannot he repeated or replicated. She is the only one of her kind in the political history of the country. I had no familiarity with Jaya. She was perhaps the only political leader of high standing in the 1980s and 1990s I did not become familiar with. At times my niece who knew her used to say she appreciated some of my articles. I met her only once, in June 2010. My friend Cho Ramaswamy, always impressed with my political strategies, was keen that I meet her.
The meeting started with a lovely cup of coffee. Then, the discussion turned to—as it was bound to—politics and elections. We discussed the strategy for the Assembly elections in the coming year. I found her clear in her thoughts, open in her talk, and candid in her views. She listed as her biggest challenges the brutal use of state power by the DMK government against her, the “cash for vote” Thirumangalam formula, the hostility of the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA at the Centre towards her and the general unfairness of the Election Commission to opposition parties.
None of my strategies to counter the challenges she mentioned seemed to impress her. Even though her closest friend was enthusiastic about my ideas, she was firm in her approach to politics as a game in which success was the only goal. She disagreed with me totally on almost every issue. My utility to her as a political strategist ended thus, but the meeting continued, to touch areas which I found more interesting and educative than politics.
The most important takeaway for me from that meeting was what she spoke about herself. She said her life was propelled by fate into two highprofile careers: acting and politics. “I became a cine actress against my wishes. My mother made me one. I became a politician again against my nature. MGR made me so,” she said. Yet she scored stunning successes as an actress. And she emerged as a mighty political leader with popularity and authority unparalleled in democratic polity anywhere. Of course, she could not do what she wanted to in her personal life.
She had no personal life at all. What did she want to be? She wanted to study. Become a scientist. Work in a laboratory. She could not realise her ordinary dreams as a young girl, but achieved extraordinary heights that she had never dreamt of nor wanted. A Jaya who wanted to remain ordinary became extraordinary by destiny. She once said, in her interview to Simi Garewal, that when young, she was shy and hated the limelight and strangers.
But she had to overcome her shyness, become familiar with strangers, and hog the limelight to achieve unbelievable fame as an actress first and unprecedented popularity as a leader later. Imagine a shy and traditional girl brought up in an orthodox Iyengar Brahmin family emerging on top of the complex cine world and transforming into the mighty—perhaps the mightiest— leader of a Dravidian party! A devout Hindu heading what was the split personality of a professed anti-Hindu movement. One could imagine the contradictions she would have had to handle and the metamorphosis she would have had to bring about in herself to become what she did not want to be—in a manner even those who wanted to be could not become.
She had extraordinary power and exercised it to its full effect. The more subjective she seemed, the more powerful she was perceived to be. She could drop any senior minister or sack any party functionary at will but the sacked person would still sing praises of her. That was her spell on her party and its functionaries. Everyone in the party, in position or out of it, paid complete obeisance to her. With an uncompromising show of power, within a couple of years of her political mentor M G Ramachandran’s death, she united the disparate AIADMK, politically, weaponised it into an invincible force and kept it under her total grip—firmer than even her mentor’s.
Her charisma was unmatched. She allowed only a few people to access her. She was isolated but she seemed to enjoy her isolation. She had a Teflon effect on the charges against her. Nothing stuck on her leaving her reputation among her core constituency completely intact. Why? In the eyes of her followers, the only ones who mattered to her, she was an orphan without a family she could call as her own nor had she any kith or kin. In their mind, she had no one to benefit after her. The result: Even court verdicts against her could not dent her standing in her constituency.
To them she was Amma, the mother. Millions, particularly women, felt co-opted into her life. And they became not the subject of her politics but the very object of her life. They loved her spontaneously just as she was sincere and committed to them. The freebies she gave to them since 2011 were a late reward to them for the unbounded love they had showered on her for two decades. The relationship between the women of Tamil Nadu whichever social strata they belonged to and Jaya was intense and intimate. In sum, the unique Jaya is no example or model for any one—as a person or as a leader. As goes the Sanskrit saying “Na Bhooto Na Bhavishyati”— meaning never in the past nor in the future. There was never a Jaya in politics in the past nor will the future politics ever see one like her.
is an eminent commentator on political and economic affairs