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Friday, December 1, 2023

Jayalalithaa : Queen of Tamil cinema and politics lost her battle with life

Jayalalithaa Jayaraman, the queen of Tamil cinema and ‘Amma’ of the male chauvinistic politics of Tamil Nadu, passed away on late Monday night. Millions mourn her remembering her words: ‘I stand before you, having come to this point, swimming in the river of fire’. For the past four decades, between 1991-2016, this legendary Tamil actress turned politician, Jayalalithaa, served four terms and was six times the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. She died in Chennai’s Apollo hospital from a heart attack on Dec. 5 at the age of 68. She had been admitted to hospital since September 22, with complaints of fever and dehydration and was diagnosed as having life threatening sepsis infection.

A seven-day period of mourning has been declared in Tamil Nadu and the Indian government has announced one day of mourning, with the national flag flown at half-mast as a mark of respect. She will be given a funeral with full state honors.

Jayalalithaa dominated Tamil cinema before her entry into politics. She appeared in 140 films from 1961 to 1980 in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada films as well as in Bollywood. The queen of Tamil cinema was famous for her dancing skills and was a versatile actress who appeared in films of different genres and played a wide variety of characters. She worked with another actor-turned-politician, Ramachandran (MGR) in Tamil hit films including Gowri Kalyanam (1966), Kumari Penn (1966), and Baghda Perazhagi (1974). She won National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil in 1973 when she acted opposite Sivaji Ganesan in Pattikada Pattanama. Actors throughout the industry paid their respects to her. With Amitabh Bachan, the evergreen Bollywood superstar tweeting T 2463 – Deeply grieved at the passing of Jayalalita ji .. a strong woman ..

Jayalalithaa acknowledged Ramachandran (MGR), who had been chief minister for Tamil Nadu from 1977 till his death in 1987, as her political mentor. He was instrumental in introducing her to politics. She joined the party he set up, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 1982 and became the propaganda secretary for the party. In 1983 she was selected as its candidate in the by-election for the Tiruchendur Assembly constituency.

Upon MGR’s death she took over the party and had dominated it single handedly since 1987, first becoming chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1991.  In her first term, she was credited with dealing severely with the LTTE insurgency and banned the party in the state. Jayalalitha was affectionately called ‘Amma’ by her followers for showing motherly affection to all. She introduced innovative welfare schemes and projects, including 69 per cent reservation in education and employment for its backward classes, and a host of other initiative such as rainwater harvesting, free cycle scheme, farmer’s insurance scheme and subsidized canteens for the poor. It was because of her that Tamil Nadu became the first state in India to allow government hospitals to perform medical procedures on transgender people to help them fight infections.

However, despite her welfare work for the poor, corruption allegations were ripe about her. She was famous for her extravagant lifestyle with police raids at her house revealing that she had more than 10,000 saris and 750 pairs of shoes.  She had to step down twice as chief minister on corruption charges. The first in December 1996, and more recently in September 2014, when she was convicted in four corruption cases, but appeals in higher courts acquitted her and she was able to come back to power. It is said, it was during this period in jail that her health condition deteriorated that ultimately led to her death yesterday.

Jayalalithaa’s Finance Minister, Panneerselvam, has been sworn in as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Monday night. The AIADMK is the third largest party in the state Parliament, and is expected to continue in power given its support from the BJP at the centre.

Her funeral will take place at the Marina Beach in Chennai at 4.30 PM on Dec. 6 near memorial of her mentor Ramachandran (MGR).