The Trials and Tribulations of a Woman in Power

Jayalalitha as a young actress

It’s been said, “With a lot of power comes a lot of loneliness”.

Let’s peer into the life of one such woman, who retained such a post.

Jayalalitha, more commonly known as the ‘iron lady’, owed the start of her career to her mother, an actress in local drama companies in Tamil Nadu. She was urged by her mother to get into acting at the age of 16 and was given a reasonably prominent role in a Kannada film, Chinnada Gombe.

Jayalalitha was a multifaceted woman even at a young age. She was a classical singer, a western classical pianist, and adored various forms of classical dance.

She soon moved on to becoming a talented actress starring next to some of the best actors of South India. The first time she starred alongside M G Ramachandran, one of Tamil Nadu’s greatest movie stars and a former chief minister of the state, was in the Tamil film ‘Aayirathil Oruvan.’ Ever since then, MGR became a mentor to Jayalalitha, although this was looked upon warily by the public and MGR’s wife Janaki.

The peak of Jayalalitha’s film career occurred between 1965 and 1980. During this period, she was one of India’s highest-paid actresses, and acted in over 140 films, 120 of which were blockbusters. It’s been said her male co-stars never objected when the film’s story revolved around and was driven by the female character played by her. Such was her talent and aura.

A lot of her strong personality can be accounted for due to her interest in reading and learning.

Jayalalitha later entered the scene of politics under the guidance of MGR. She represented the AIADMK in the Rajya Sabha between 1984 and 1989. She was elected after MGR wanted her in New Delhi for her fluency in English and knowledge of several languages.She was referred to as Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary Leader) and called Amma by her people, a name which she declared for herself post the unfortunate demise of her mentor MGR.

On MGR’s demise he left no clear political heir. AIADMK descended into chaos over his legacy. Jayalalitha then fiercely competed with his wife Janaki for the control of the party, which eventually split into two major factions, one behind each powerful woman.

In 1989, Jayalalithaa was elected to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. She became the first woman to be appointed Leader of the Opposition. In the same year, the two factions of AIADMK merged and unanimously accepted Jayalalitha as their leader. In 1991, Jayalalithaa became the first female (and the youngest) Chief minister of Tamil Nadu to serve a full term.

In the midst of all this, Jayalalitha had a foster son. She held a lavish wedding for him attended by over 1,50,000 guests. Unfortunately, this feat which won her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records proved to be her downfall in the 1996 elections. She returned to power in 2001, but her second term as Chief Minister was cut short when the Supreme Court ruled that she could not hold office while criminal cases were pending against her.

Jayalalitha was sworn in as Chief Minister for the third time in 2011. But in 2014, she was sentenced to four years in jail in a “disproportionate assets case”. As a result, she became the first Indian chief minister to be disqualified from her post and the Legislative Assembly. In 2015, she was acquitted of all charges in the disproportionate assets case. Amma returned as Chief Minister following a landslide victory in the by-election. The AIADMK leader again contested the elections in 2016 and became the first Chief Minister in 32 years to be voted back to power.

According to reports, Jayalalitha drew a salary of just one rupee for her job as Chief Minister which made her quite popular amidst her peers and people. She had the audacity to help her people when in need and times of turmoil, by providing medical aid, basic food and amenities for free.

She was considered to be an Iron Lady in the eyes of many people. Although there were mixed opinions about her in the eyes of some, she proved to be a very respectable woman who will be remembered as a great leader.

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