A woman who is always mired in controversies and held in awe and fear. One who holds everyone in distrust and refuses to let even her ministers guess her stand. That is the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, 66. If one were to query about her character to associates, anecdotes and quotes pour in to make for an interesting profile.
She was a woman who witnessed a number of ups and downs; had been always all alone, often by choice. In one of her interviews in the late 1970s to a Tamil publication, she had described her disenchantment with dear ones — father was “gentleman of leisure” who failed to handle things, and mother changed her life by making her an actor at the age of 16 instead of letting her study.
Born in an Iyengar family six months after the Independence she was fondly christened Komalavalli. Ambitious and young in the ’70s, she wanted to study further, but a role in a movie, Vennira Aadai, altered the course of her life.
Thus, began the life of Jayalalithaa, an actor and politician. She once said: “…in life there is one person you must rely on — yourself.”
She acted in several movies with former chief minister and Tamil superstar M G Ramachandaran. After over a decade-long cinema career, she began her political innings in the early 1980s.
The next 10 years witnessed the crucial events in Jaya’s life — especially after she became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1983. “MGR was known to keep a tab on her movements,” recalled a senior Tamil journalist. However, Jayalalithaa continued her political moves within and it was during this period that the state witnessed the emergence of Jayalalithaa Peravai, a silent movement within the AIADMK by her loyalists.
In 1987, she was thrown out of MGR’s funeral procession by a close relative of Janaki, wife of MGR. Many recall an incident in the Assembly in 1989 when Jayalalithaa, then opposition leader, was manhandled by DMK MLAs. Both incidents have left a permanent imprint on her life.
Jayalalithaa’s first tenure as CM was between 1991 and 96. It was the period that kickstarted some of the best public health programmes in Tamil Nadu, but the abuse of power, corruption and multiple-power centres operated by her aide Sasikala turned out to be a curse to her image. After her defeat in 1996 she was at the mercy of courts.
In the infamous TANSI case, she was convicted after two companies (Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises) had illegally purchased properties belonging to the Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation. In December 2001, she was acquitted.
In December 1996, Chennai was abuzz with stories of Jayalalithaa’s journey from palatial Poes Garden to Madras Central Jail. Charges that led to the detention was a multi-crore colour TV scam in which she allegedly received kickbacks of Rs 8.53 crore.
That was the period when her properties were raided which led to seizure around 10,500 saris, 750 pairs of footwear and a 1.5 kg diamond-studded gold waist belt among others.
After a turbulent period as the opposition leader until 2001, Jayalalithaa, despite facing several suits, was adamant to be sworn in as the CM in May 2001 after Assembly elections. Within four months, she had to step down after adverse observations by the Supreme Court, but she returned as CM within five months time as the Madras HC acquitted her. Her troubles, however, were far from over and in November 2003, the apex court ordered to shift the assets case to a Special Court in Bangalore from Chennai .
DMK: No law and order in TN
The DMK has alleged that there was a “complete breakdown in constitutional machinery” in Tamil Nadu after the conviction of CM J Jayalalithaa. In a letter, DMK chief M Karunanidhi sought the intervention of the President and the PM.
1996: Subramanian Swamy files disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa.
December 7, 1996: Jayalalithaa arrested.
June 4, 1997: She and three others chargesheeted.
October 1, 1997: Madras HC dismisses Jayalalithaa’s plea against Governor’s sanction to prosecute her.
2001: Several prosecution witnesses resile after AIADMK returned to power.
November 18, 2003: The Supreme Court transfers the case to Bangalore.
October/November 2011: Jayalalithaa deposes in the Special Court and answers 1,339 questions.
December 12, 2013: Special Court directs to deposit valuables and other assets seized from Jayalalithaa with an RBI treasury.
August 28, 2014: Special Court reserves judgement.
September 27, 2014: Jayalalithaa convicted.