Jayaram Jayalalithaa, set to be Tamil Nadu's chief minister for a
third time, began life as a small-time movie actress before
becoming one of India's most successful woman politicians.
heading only a regional party, it was the AIADMK general secretary
who famously brought down the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in
1998 when she suddenly switched sides and teamed up with the
That of course is not the only reason why friends and foes are in
awe of the 63-year-old, who is the tallest Brahmin politician in a
state where anti-Brahminism is a part of political discourse.
Even her critics admit that Jayalalithaa is a fighter.
Only recently, there had been a string of defections from her
party, the AIADMK had been losing most by-elections and she was
said to be despondent.
In the 2006 elections, the AIADMK won only 61 seats in a house of
234. Even in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the AIADMK could get
just nine of the state's 39 seats.
Ironically, the DMK -- her arch rival -- made things easier for
The deep involvement of DMK leaders in the spectrum allocation
scam that has seen one of them, A. Raja, a former central
minister, jailed has hit the ruling party hard.
If that was not enough, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's
daughter and MP Kanimozhi faces corruption charges. Investigators
have raided the offices of a TV channel linked to Karunanidhi's
Soaring food prices and severe power cuts also helped the AIADMK
regain lost ground.
Jayalalithaa exploited the situation astutely, sewing up a grand
alliance that includes the Communists and another popular actor
Vijayakanth to post a formidable challenge to the DMK-led
And taking a leaf from the DMK, she has offered plenty of freebies
to voters if her party wins.
Born in Karnataka Feb 2, 1948, Jayalalithaa moved to Chennai with
her mother who started acting in movies.
Jayalalithaa studied at the Bishop Cotton Girl's High School in
Bangalore and another Christian convent, Church Park, in Chennai.
A bright student, Jayalalithaa ventured into acting and made her
debut at the age of 16 in a Kannada movie.
Her first Tamil movie was the memorable "Vennira Aadai".
But it was the grand success of "Aayirathil Oruvan" pairing with
the legendary M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) that turned Jayalalithaa
into a leading light of Tamil movie world.
She has paired with almost all the leading Tamil heroes. She has
acted in over 100 movies, mostly in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.
A charismatic leader who is at home in Tamil, English and Hindi (a
rare quality in Tamil Nadu politics), Jayalalithaa has also sung
many songs and written several stories.
But when she entered politics, few could have predicted her
AIADMK founder-leader MGR made Jayalalithaa the party's Propaganda
Secretary in the early 1980s. In 1984, she entered the Rajya Sabha,
She was elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly for the first time in
1989. Just two years later, she became the chief minister,
sweeping the election of 1991 held in the wake of Rajiv Gandhi's
She lost her huge mandate within five years amid corruption
charges. She returned to power in 2001 but corruption charges
still dog her.
Now, having led the AIADMK to another hard won victory,
Jayalalithaa, who chose never to get married, is set to take
charge of Tamil Nadu again. As political commentator Cho Ramaswamy
says, the woman "is really a phenomenon".