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Jayalalithaa: From heroine to hero
J. Jayalalithaa, the charismatic and popular CM of Tamil Nadu passed away last night. Jaya was destiny's child in every sense. An outstanding student in school, she might have pursued law for a career but fate had other plans.
Forced into the film industry by an ambitious mother, she went on to become a successful heroine in Tamil films starring with the leading heroes of the day. She debuted on the political stage as the protege of MGR the film star politician and became the AIADMK propaganda secretary.

When MGR died Jaya's career might have been aborted for there was no place for a woman in Dravidian politics at that time. But when her resignation letter reached the Governor through some mysterious messenger, she was not amused and decided to fight back. This one incident is enough to show her mettle.

Rather than back down and make a quiet exit, she fought for her place in the party. But the incident that buttressed her resolve was her humiliation in the Assembly when some DMK men manhandled her as she was making her way out. The canny Jaya made full use of the sympathy wave that came her way and clawed her way back into the reckoning, eventually inheriting the mantle of party leader.

She soon established her grip on the party and a reputation for being an autocrat with a vindictive streak. She demanded unquestioning obedience and loyalty from her partymen and even the slightest indiscretion brought swift dismissal.

Corruption scandals dogged her throughout her life and she had to face imprisonment. But looking at her balance sheet, one finds that her achievements outnumber her failures. Her intelligence and toughness helped her to overcome challenges and steer the state capably.

Populist measures made her the darling of the masses. The Cradle Baby scheme ensured that Tamil Nadu did not have to suffer a skewed male-female sex ratio. Amma canteens ensured that the poor did not go hungry. Free laptops and cycles for students, gold and marriage assistance for women were just some of the welfare measures she introduced.

The political will she displayed to enforce the implementation of rainwater harvesting was admirable. No less admirable was her success in stabilizing a power-deficit state which used to suffer from prolonged power cuts and load-shedding. It was evident, that Jayalalithaa was not content to merely rule and enjoy the spoils of power. Instead she aspired to have her name written in letters of gold in history books.

Sometimes there were missteps. She sacked one lakh striking government employees once though they were reinstated by the Supreme Court. On another occasion she triggered widespread public protests when she announced her decision to raze the 88 year old Queen Mary's College and construct a new secretariat. But the plan was shelved.

Like her mentor, she had a special place in the hearts of the masses, especially women voters. They could identify with her struggle to hold her own in a patriarchal society. They also appreciated her concern for them which earned her the sobriquet, 'Amma'.

By the time she died she had graduated from heroine to hero in the imagination of her people. Because heroines in films merely sing and dance and cry buckets of tears. They don't fight, they don't lead, they don't change the world.

Jaya showed us that given a chance, women in real life can do all this and more. Like a hero, even if a flawed one.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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