She stormed into politics with a speech on Pennin Perumai (The Greatness of a Woman) in a state that didnâ€™t take its women seriously. She made inroads first into a male-dominated film industry and then into patriarchal politics and emerged dominant in both. Unfortunately, circumstances donâ€™t let too many women fight against all odds and turn the tables on those who donâ€™t take them seriously because, well, they are women. Jayaram Jayalalithaa was one such feisty woman who defied circumstances and turned the tide in her favour, emerging as the Amma or Mother of all.
The demise of the former Tamil Nadu chief minister has been a loss not only to her political party AIADMK or the stateâ€™s politics but to the polity of the whole country. She was not just one of the few women politicians India has had but was an above-average political leader, irrespective of gender, among the mostly over-rated politicians lurking around in the country. Her death has also left a void for millions of women who, at the receiving end in various aspects of life simply because of their gender, have lost an icon to look up to.
An autocratic and controversial politician, it can be said that Jayalalithaa was not a perfect leader for a democracy. She enjoyed sycophancy and the larger-than-life cult status that she built for herself. Having instilled a fear-reverence psychosis in her party members, she could be seen smirking as party leaders prostrated in front of her to show their respect. She never objected when her followers held extravagant rituals and prayers, shaved their heads or committed suicide whenever the law was strict with her. She was flattered when fans made her portraits with their blood. She seemed to have been enjoying the circus that was held solely to please her.
Amma, the honorific she was known by, may have been acquitted by the courts in various corruption cases because of lack of evidence, but it is a well-known fact that she had amassed enormous wealth disproportionate to her income as an administrator. I-T raids on her residences revealed that she owned thousands of sarees, hundreds of pairs of footwear, expensive jewellery worth crores of rupees and other ostentatious valuables, apart from unaccountable immovable property.
Whenever questioned about her domineering style of governance or her flamboyant lifestyle, all she said was that she was doing what men did all the time. Itâ€™s true that women are judged more often and on many more parameters than men. Be it the film industry or politics, the corporate sector or any other profession, playing cricket or football, flying a kite or a plane, or be it driving a car, women have to prove their mettle not as persons but as women. Jayalalithaa was well aware of this fact and made a conscious effort to succeed not just as a politician but as a woman politician. She was aware that any failure on her part would be pinned not on her persona but on her womanhood.