The mosaic of welfare schemes over the last 25 years affixed a pro-poor stamp to Amma’s governance.
Peter Brook, the celebrated English theatre personality-, whose epic creation ‘The Mahabaratha’ in 1985 had won universal acclaim -, has among his many reflective gems, this memorable quote: “Time, which is so often an enemy in life, can also become our ally if we see how a pale moment can lead to a glowing moment; and then turn to a moment of perfect transparency, before dropping again to a moment of everyday simplicity.” These words ring in with awesome aptness now, somewhat with an amazing precision as it were, in looking back at the administrative abilities of Ms. Jayalalithaa Jayaram.
The bright and eloquent undisputed leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) for over 25 years in Tamil Nadu may not have been the darling of the entire bureaucracy, but everyone will agree she was an undaunted administrator. Viewing four Chief Ministerial tenures since she ascended the ‘Gaddi’ of the State first in June 1991, — (‘Amma’ was actually sworn in six times in that post till 2016 due to the interim breaks and re-elections to the State Assembly, apart from her earlier stint as an AIADMK member of the Rajya Sabha where the number of the seat allotted to her was the same as that of the late Dravidian movement ideologue and mass leader C.N. Annadurai), — as a Correspondent covering Tamil Nadu, one could see that Jayalalithaa was always unflinching with her bold decisions, unmindful of consequences even if they were bitter.
There were many ‘pale moments’ in the roller-coaster political career of Jayalalithaa, ushered into politics by her one-time screen hero, M G Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, who had emerged as a powerful mass leader and a fulcrum of anti-DMK forces in the State since the mid-1970s’. But whenever, given an opportunity in public office, those ‘pale moments’, at times even sad moments in her private life, turned ‘glowing moments’ of effective articulation and execution of policies for the people. But cut back a little into the formative factors, just to help place in context what defined her 68 years of a tumultuous public life: From her punishing, alienated childhood days, her mother Sandhya’s influence and what the value of motherhood meant to her, being unwittingly pushed into the dog-eat-dog world of cinema after a brilliant school record, reluctantly landing in the much bigger world of politics after being mentored by the legendary actor-turned-politician MGR without any political family to back her, and later ascending to a new phase that promised to give ‘Amma’ a pan-Indian profile to the point of being considered a possible Prime Ministerial candidate of non-Congress/non-BJP alternate front in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Jayalalithaa had seen it all.
And now to the elements of real politik, which she handled and shaped in the State. In her first stint as Chief Minister, the firmness with which she put down forces of terror, then identified with the militant Sri Lankan Tamil outfit LTTE, in the aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 by a woman suicide bomber at Sriperumbudur, had a huge peace dividend to it. Tamil Nadu returned to its placid track, even as the then SIT Chief and former CBI director, D.R. Karthikeyan once observed that the investigation into the Rajiv Gandhi case could not have been successfully accomplished without the excellent support of the then State government. It left nobody in doubt as a subtle compliment to Ms Jayalalithaa’s firm anti-terror stance. And she never compromised on that till the very end.
If the launching of the ‘All Women Police Station’ in that phase of her tenure won her accolades even from Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, the way the Jayalalithaa administration worked had to bring the first big ticket industrial investments to Tamil Nadu in the wake of the economic liberalization — Ford Motors and Hyundai-, propelled the State into a fast-track of economic growth. “We learnt under Madame (Chief Minister) what we would not have learnt in Harvard Business School,” was how the then state Industries secretary, C Ramachandran, lauded her ‘inspirational leadership’ at the foundation stone laying ceremony for Ford manufacturing plant at Maraimalinagar, in her presence.
During her second stint as Chief Minister (2001-2006), when the chips were down, in the wake of the unprecedented en masse sacking of state government employees — a senior official then told this Correspondent she was misled into that decision by one of her senior Ministers in the Cabinet — Ms Jayalalithaa turned the tide with two astonishing administrative feats. The capture of the elusive forest brigand Veerappan in October 2014, was followed by the splendid way she responded to the catastrophic December 2004 Asian Tsunami that devastated large parts of coastal Tamil Nadu. One then had an opportunity to literally see her as a virtual ‘War time CM’; and thanks to a dedicated team of senior IAS officers like N. Narayanan, Vivek Harinarayan, Gagandeep Singh Bedi, then Cuddalore collector, Dr J Radhakrishnan, then Nagapattinam district collector, the administration’s response to the immediate relief and rehabilitation of the Tsunami victims, had won the praise of no less a person than former US President Bill Clinton during his visit to Nagapattinam in May 2005. Tamil Nadu’s first expertise in handling something like the Tsunami, was sought after even by neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, it may be pertinent to point out.
Ms. Jayalalithaa showed remarkable diligence and courage in taking on the ‘land mafia’ after she made a huge comeback as Chief Minister in May 2011. The way she ‘vanquished’ the much-feared DMK strongman in Madurai, M K Alagiri, during the election campaign that year spoke volumes for her political sagacity as a campaigner from the front for the AIADMK. She was to repeat it in the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls when she even taunted her electorate with the words, “this lady is better than Modi”.The mosaic of welfare schemes starting from the ‘Temple Annadhanam’ scheme, later extended to select Mosques and Churches as well, to myriad forms of assistance to the economically backward sections, poor and marginal sections right up to the ‘Amma canteens’, brought out her concern for the people as a ‘Mother’ would care for her children. In these days of right-wing economics, she proved a different sort of administrator, just to mention a few examples.
Notwithstanding her imperious ways in handling several other issues including the media, there was something very human and touching about Ms. Jayalalithaa. At the end of a long-interview she gave to this Correspondent along with Mr. E. Raghavan (then political bureau chief and Editor South of the ‘Economic Times’ in Bengaluru), before the 25th anniversary celebrations of the AIADMK in 1997, one line that she uttered last still rings in my mind: “If after all that has happened to me so far, I am still around, then God must have a purpose for me, for each and everyone of us.” That is what Peter Brook would have termed, “a moment of perfect transparency, before dropping again to a moment of everyday simplicity.” That is one important facet of Ms. Jayalalithaa Jayaram, we cannot forget.