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Jayalalithaa: Tamil Nadu's iron woman is chief minister once more

Friday May 13, 2011 03:06:29 PM, V. Jagannathan, IANS

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Chennai: 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.


Though 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 Congress.

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 Jayalalithaa.

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 family.

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 coalition.

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 meteoric rise.

AIADMK founder-leader MGR made Jayalalithaa the party's Propaganda Secretary in the early 1980s. In 1984, she entered the Rajya Sabha, almost shy.

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 assassination.

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".






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(Photo: Hansraj)



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