"Jayalalithaa had an uncanny streak for self destruction"

"Jayalalithaa had an uncanny streak for self destruction"
"Jayalalithaa had an uncanny streak for self destruction"
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Chitra Subramaniam & Dhanya Rajendran| The News Minute| October 3, 2014| 9.40 pm IST

Vaasanthi Sundaram is most known for her works on southern India's most important and fascinating leaders, and a biography on Jayalalithaa Jayaram. She concedes that the one-time film actor, single woman and a woman who rode the male Tamil bastion of Dravidian politics with grit and courage had received a set-back, but writing her off after the conviction last Saturday in Bangalore would be premature.

In a conversation with TNM's Chitra Subramaniam and Dhanya Rajendran, Vasaanthi shared some rare insights into the life of a woman who rose from the ashes of a headless party after the death of its mentor MGR to a force to reckon with it in TN politics. She is known to be haughty, arrogant and greedy, but there is also a human side that needs to be talked about. For this brilliant child from a school in Chennai, fate had other plans. Excerpts

Is Jayalalitha Jayaram the quintessential tragic heroine? The AIADMK was headless after MGR. Did she, a former film star, single and Brahmin put it all together in a Dravidian environment?

Jayalalithaa gives the appearance of a tragic heroine all right,[ an appearance that she made use of to her advantage when she stood before the voters] but is a person of incredible grit and courage. What makes her the most fascinating figure in Indian politics is the fact that she relentlessly challenged the male dominated, sexist politics of Tamil Nadu that worked to block her at every step of the way. She rose to be a charismatic leader for a large party that was rudderless after the death of its founder MGR, who was looked upon as a demi –god by his followers. It would not have been easy to step into his shoes, but she did so, fighting single handedly against the crude machinations of her enemies within and outside the party. She reached the top on her own with no pedigree to flaunt and thrice became the chief minister. She was able to do that because the cadres of the AIADMK loved her and saw her as the true successor of MGR , and she had the charisma to win women voters the trusted vote-bank of MGR. Yes, indeed it was a single handed achievement. The man in the street and the masses are never concerned about ideologies or caste/ language differences.

Was she driven to destruction by the people around her - Sasikala, for example?

No. On the contrary, Jayalalithaa has had an uncanny streak for self destruction. She has no one to blame but herself. She has no advisers. She has always been her own counsel. She does not [ like Indira Gandhi] trust anyone according to people who have been close to her. Sasikala cannot be blamed and Jayalalithaa is too smart and intelligent to be ‘ruined’ by a person who cannot definitely match her intelligence.

She once famously said her life is an open book, yet she is unapproachable, an enigma. How do you explain this?

That is only for public consumption. She is an enigma and wants to be so. She had some close friends when she was in school but basically she is a loner and wearing a mask comes naturally to her. Her own ministers have never known what her moves are . Her regimes have always been the most secretive.

She prevented your book on her from seeing the light of print. What is she hiding from the world?

She is very sensitive to anything written in English about her. Her early life as an actor, her love affair her relationship with MGR were all in the public domain – she herself has written an autobiographical serial for some time in Kumudam weekly. But now she does not want anything of her past being told. She wants to project herself as the Immaculate Virgin. She is Amma. The perfect woman, who may, if she was lucky could rule the nation. My book was ‘a violation of her privacy’.

How do you explain that a intelligent young lady (by all accounts), turns into one of India's most corrupt politicians, remains arrogant and ruthless?

That is not strange at all. When she won a massive mandate and came to power in 1991, the success and power it symbolized was intoxicating. She also realized that money was power and to win elections one needs money. She went berserk that encouraged her ministers to become corrupt . She was foolish enough to get caught, you may say. Arrogance and ruthlessness were weapons that are needed by an autocrat which she was. She could get away with it because she is the face of the party and the party men know that they can not exist without her and therefore were terrified of her.

She is by far the most successful leader in south Indian politics. What next for her and what next for politics in Tamil Nadu?

She can appeal for a stay of the verdict and ask for bail at the Karnataka High court. If she is successful, she can carry on wielding her power over the party though not as the CM. But if her appeal is rejected , [ which may happen because the Supreme court has given a verdict discouraging such a thing when it concerns corruption at high places] then it is bad news for her and the party. The party may yet win in the 2016 Assembly elections because of the numerous welfare schemes that she started in her name and also because of the sympathy wave if the party makes use of it; but in the long run it will be a downhill for the party if she is not around to fight for another ten years . She is said to be in not good health and she is 66 years old.

Yet , one never knows, you cannot write her off.

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