Amma No More: TN CM Jayalalithaa passes away, India loses an epoch-making icon

She was receiving treatment at Apollo Hospital in Chennai since September 22.
Amma No More: TN CM Jayalalithaa passes away, India loses an epoch-making icon
Amma No More: TN CM Jayalalithaa passes away, India loses an epoch-making icon
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Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has died at the age of 68.

After battling for her life at Apollo Hospital in Chennai for 75 days, the iconic Dravidian leader and six-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu succumbed to her illness on Monday, December 5 at 11 30pm.

As the news spreads, a wave of sadness and disbelief is engulfing the state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu has not witnessed such a crisis since the death of MGR, or perhaps ever.

Accompanied by her aide Sasikala, the Chief Minister was taken by a special convoy to the hospital on Greams Road in Chennai on September 22.

Though initially the hospital had said that she was suffering from fever and dehydration, soon experts were flown in from London, Singapore and AIIMS, Delhi. A team of doctors from Apollo including cardiologists, nephrologists, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists and dieticians were helping Jayalalithaa recover.

In one of the last updates on Jayalalithaa’s health, Apollo Hospitals Chairman Prathap Reddy on November 25 said she was well and recovering. She was shifted from the Critical Care Unit to a private room few weeks ago, in a sign that her health had been improving. As late as Sunday evening, there were reports that she had ‘recovered completely’ and was ready to be discharged. But on December 4 evening, she suffered a cardiac arrest from which she could not recover.

The tight atmosphere of secrecy that Jayalalithaa maintained throughout her political career, continued during her brief illness. For several days, doctors dispelled rumours as gossip spread like wildfire on social media and WhatsApp.

The 68-year old CM suffered from diabetes, cellulitis and hypertension among other ailments, according to her 2014 bail plea filed with the Karnataka High Court following her conviction in the disproportionate assets case.

Jayalalithaa’s last public appearance was on September 21, when she inaugurated the metro rail service from Chennai Airport to Little Mount via video conference in the presence of Union Ministers Venkaiah Naidu and Pon Radhakrishnan.

Early life

Born in Karnataka’s Mandya district (then Mysore) in 1948, Jayalalithaa studied in Bishop Cotton Higher Secondary School in Bengaluru, Presentation Convent – Church Park in Chennai and Stella Maris College in Chennai.

She has been in the limelight since her childhood. She debuted as a child artiste in “Sri Shaila Mahatmyam”. Trained in various arts including Carnatic music, Western classical piano, Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Mohiniyattam alongside her schooling, Jayalalithaa made her debut in the Kannada film “Chinnada Gombe” as an adult, before making her mark in Tamil cinema with the film “Vennira Aadai” in 1965 and went on from success to success from there. Her last film was “Nadhiyai Thedi Vandha Kadal” in 1980, bringing her tally up to over 144 films over 33 years.

Political career

It was Jayalalithaa’s acting career which eventually paved the way for her political one. MGR handpicked Jayalalithaa, his co-lead of several films, and inducted her into the party in 1982 with the belief that she could rake in the votes.

She was appointed the party’s Propaganda Secretary in 1983. From 1984 to 1989, she served as an MP in the Rajya Sabha.

In October-November 1984, the then chief minister MGR, who had been diabetic for several years, was hospitalized for kidney related ailment. For two weeks his condition oscillated between stable and critical. Even Cabinet ministers did not know that he was ill, let alone the seriousness of it.

It was Jayalalithaa who campaigned for him during this time and MGR won his constituency of Andipatti in Madurai. The AIADMK won both the Assembly and the Lok Sabha elections that year, a victory significantly attributed to Jayalalithaa.

However, after MGR’s death on December 24, 1987, the party split into two – one faction followed his wife Janaki and the other followed his leading lady in 28 films, J Jayalalithaa.

Although Janaki became Tamil Nadu’s first woman chief minister, she lost the 1989 elections after her government was dismissed following a confidence motion. The DMK swept the elections and Janaki quit politics, leaving the AIADMK to Jayalalithaa.

As history can testify, she grew beyond MGR’s shadow to forge her own identity as a sharp politician who took the DMK head on and went on to become Tamil Nadu’s longest-serving chief minister.

Sasikala, Jaya’s closest aide

Throughout her political career, and her later years as an unmarried woman, it was her close-aide Sasikala who stood by her through ups and downs.

Sasikala’s husband, Natarajan, was a government Public Relations Officer in the 1970s. He put his wife in touch with Jayalalithaa, then a growing leader in the AIADMK, through IAS officer VS Chandralekha. Sasikala was running a video-tape shop and used to record weddings attended by Jayalalithaa, and soon broke into her inner circles.

Ever since, Sasikala, or ‘chinna-amma’ as she is called, has been Jayalalithaa’s sole political and personal aide, taking care of the party, the government and her household at Poes Garden in Chennai. They are even co-accused in the Disproportionate Assets case.

In 2012, a fallout between Sasikala and Jayalalithaa shook Tamil Nadu. In a coordinated move, Sasikala was ousted from Poes Garden and members of the cartel were either arrested or forced to go into hiding. Several party workers known to be close to them were expelled. But in just about 100 days, she was back, clearer than ever that she was in control. The Sasikala family is known to peddle massive influence in the state.

Tight control

Jayalalithaa’s tenure as chief minister has been marked by an aura of aloofness that is completely at odds with the near mania that her party workers and admirers display.

Jayalalithaa was known for controlling both her party and government with an iron fist, and did not take to insubordination or criticism very lightly. So much so, that the Supreme Court observed in August, that she must learn to take criticism as she was a public figure. The Court also observed that Tamil Nadu was the only state which “misuses state machinery to fight defamation cases”.

In the past five years, Jayalalithaa’s government has filed over 200 defamation cases against both the media and opposition leaders. About 55 cases have been slapped against the media, and 85 against the AIADMK’s main rival, the DMK. Captain Vijayakanth has 28 defamation cases against him for comments critical of Jayalalithaa.

Disproportionate assets case

In her first tenure as chief minister in 1991-96, Jayalalithaa stunned everyone when she declared that she would take a monthly salary of Re 1. That term was also the time when she was accused of amassing wealth disproportionate to her known sources of income. It was Subramanian Swamy who first hinted at this.

Soon after the Karunanidhi government came to power, the Cabinet took a cabinet decision on December 5, 1996, to arrest her in connection with the Rs 8.53 crore colour television scandal.

On December 6, 1996, Judge C Shivappa of the Madras High Court shot down Jayalalithaa’s anticipatory bail petition. In no time, police formed a cordon around her Poes Garden residence, which is located just a kilometre-and-half-away from Karunanidhi’s house, the US Consulate, and the police headquarters. But Jayalalithaa took her own time, and only went out of her house after having a bath and dressing for the occasion in a maroon sari. In a few hours, she was in Madras Central Jail, where she spent 27 days before obtaining bail.

With Jayalalithaa in prison, Sun TV beamed visuals of her personal possessions – jewellery, shoes, clothes – considered extravagant at the time.

However, her conviction in 2014, was in a case which took ups and downs – including the transfer of the case to Karnataka – over 19 years for the verdict by the Bengaluru trial court. She spent around 20 days in Bengaluru Central Jail, but was granted bail by the Supreme Court, after the Karnataka High Court rejected her plea. She was sentenced to four years in prison, but her conviction was overturned by the Karnataka High Court, which said that the trial court had miscalculated her assets and expenditure.

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