The demise of J Jayalalithaa marks the end of an era dominated by an iconic personality who upended the patriarchal setup in Indian politics to build a cult for herself. It is safe to say that after Indira Gandhi, Jayalalithaa was the the only iconic woman politician in India for several years before contemporaries like Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati caught up pace with her. It also brings the point to mind that India only has a handful of politicians left who can be called icons of their age and have forged a legacy.
Jayalalithaa, fondly known as Amma by millions of her followers, experienced a multitude of ups and downs in her life. Though many have led such lives, her story will remain incomparable. Here we take a look at some of the iconic personalities in Indian politics, active or not, who have left a lasting impact on the political spectrum and the social fabric of the country.
Starting with Jayalalithaa’s Tamil Nadu, her arch rival Muthuvel Karunanidhi. The five time Tamil Nadu chief minister holds the record for winning every seat he has contested in his life. His career spans six decades and he has led the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the party at the forefront of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu till MG Ramachandran formed his AIADMK. Karunanidhi has led the party since the previous party president and much adored chief minister of the state C.N. Annadurai passed away in 1969. His political career has been mired with controversy. However, he will remain a key figure in Tamil Nadu politics
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee remains incapacitated with several ailments and stays tucked away from the public’s eyes. However, he has been one of the most famous prime ministers in India. He was a key figure in stamping the BJP’s authority at the Centre. A poet by hobby, Vajpayee is revered for his decisive leadership and equally criticised for his linkages to the RSS and Babri Masjid demolition.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shot to stardom and transformed himself from a politician to a leader of the masses and a celebrity rivalling the fame and following of several of the biggest stars across the world. His style of governance, fine oratory skills, control over the party, calculated and intelligent management of diplomatic relations and understanding of ground level politics have made him an icon in relatively early stages of his political career. He won his first Prime Ministerial bid with a mammoth mandate.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati ran with the baton handed over to her by her mentor Kanshi Ram and has been at the forefront of the Dalit rights movement in the country. Mayawati has been the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh on multiple times while having enjoyed fruitful periods in the parliament where she has advocated, among many other issues, stricter enforcement of reservation for Dalits, prevention of atrocities of the SC/ST and marginalised communities and women empowerment in a state which has not given much space to women in the social as well as the political space.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav also deserves inclusion in the list. He heralded the Samajwadi socialist movement in the country after departing from mentor Jai Prakash Narayan’s movement. When he forayed into politics, his politics stayed away from caste and religion. Though the lines dissolved in the coming years, his influence still remains strong across the state. A close disciple of the mass leader JP Narayan, Mulayam has served as the UP chief minister several times and also held Union portfolios in the past. Currently, he is an elected Lok Sabha MP from Mainpuri in UP. Mulayam Singh also enjoys a cult following among his followers who fondly call him Netaji. His legacy is strong in the state and people cutting across all religions and communities have extended support to him.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is another mercurial leader who runs a tightly managed party and has formed a mass following with her pro-poor populist policies. She has projected her image that is more relatable by the common man. Clad normally in a crumbled saree and chappals, Mamata is the manifestation of a grassroot leader. Though her name and her party’s name was dragged in scams like Saradha Chit fund scam and Narada sting, her image overcomes all the controversies and she is praised in the political circles as a firebrand leader who can challenge established parties in Lutyens’ Delhi.
Former chief minister of Kerala V.S. Achutanandan deserves a mention among the names. Achutanandan is one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India (Marxists). The leadership and the party structure built by Achutanandan dominated Kerala politics for over three decades. He has been behind several key reforms in the Kerala education system. The state boasts of 100 per cent literacy rate. He was behind the probes and convictions in several graft cases including Balakrishna Pillai corruption case and his struggle against the lottery mafia. Though he maintained a distance from Delhi, Achutanandan is a leader who has masterminded what happens in Kerala politics for several decades.