She gave women freedom and power: A TN woman politician’s moving tribute to Jayalalithaa

In Bader Sayeed’s memory, Jayalalithaa’s support and encouragement for women was never tokenism
She gave women freedom and power: A TN woman politician’s moving tribute to Jayalalithaa
She gave women freedom and power: A TN woman politician’s moving tribute to Jayalalithaa
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As hundreds gather outside Rajaji Hall to pay their last respects to Tamil Nadu’s foremost woman leader leader, Bader Sayeed, a former AIADMK member, remembers Jayalalithaa as a leader who protected women, instilled faith in them and gave them more important posts than any leader she knew.

Bader and Jayalalithaa were in school together, with the future Chief Minister being two years her junior at Sacred Heart Matriculation School in Church Park, Chennai. As in her later public life, Jayalalithaa was a private person as a schoolgirl too, Bader remembers. 

“Everyone saw her as a beautiful girl. But people didn't know her because she was an actress's daughter, but because she made a name for herself by being an outstanding student,” Bader says. “She was an outstanding Chief Minister too,” she adds. 

Bader was appointed as a member of the Tamil Nadu Minorities Commission in 1991. She was also the first woman chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Wakf Board in 2002: two opportunities Bader is grateful to Jayalalithaa for. 

“I had not been in the public eye before. But she (Jayalalithaa) gave me a lot of courage. And even though I didn’t know Tamil well, she was always encouraging. ‘As long as you can communicate, it doesn’t matter’, she would tell me,” Bader recounts.

Jayalalithaa and Bader at the inauguration of the new Wakf Board building 

In Bader’s memory, Jayalalithaa’s support and encouragement for the women in her party was never tokenism. “No ministry interfered with my work, I had the freedom to make decisions. She would only say one thing: ‘Never ask me for favours. Always do your work.’ But I never had to (ask for favours), because she would give us what we needed to do our work,” she explains.

Bader had not met Jayalalithaa for the past couple of years. Not since she quit the AIADMK in March 2014 and joined the Aam Aadmi Party. But the shift in her political alignments had little effect on her reverence for the former Tamil Nadu CM, the woman Bader considers her “guiding light” and the one who put her on India’s political stage.

Bader believes that her attempts to get in touch in recent times with Jayalalithaa were thwarted on purpose. “I was kept away (from her). This doesn’t mean I blame her (Jayalalithaa). In fact, I wrote her many letters, but I am not sure if they ever reached her,” she laments.

Jayalalithaa and Bader at the All India Conference of Wakf Board Chairmen and Secretaries, in Chennai

With O Panneerselvam sworn in as Tamil Nadu’s next Chief Minister and Jayalalithaa’s successor, it is no secret that he has big shoes to fill and without the aura, charisma and presence that Jayalalithaa possessed. Bader sees her public schemes as Jayalalithaa’s most prominent legacy, which other state governments are trying to emulate now.

 “For example, who would have thought of a Re 1 idly? She pioneered so many policies for the poor; she had so much compassion. I hope this legacy is taken forward by the new CM,” she says.

(Photos by special arrangement)

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