How to summarize a life, that too the life of a public figure, the life which resembles more of a sine curve, the life which has many dimensions, each requiring its own compendium! It is difficult to chronicle in one book, let alone in couple of pages.
It is only fair to quote a line misattributed to George Bernard Shaw to show respect to a well read, eloquent and erudite person.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
Such a remarkable person’s life can be portrayed as a fine actor or a shrewd politician or an able administrator or a visionary Chief Minister.
The significance of her achievements is not small. In the contemporary Tamil Cinema, imagine how English speaking women are portrayed, especially the heroines. Sub-nationalism in Tamil Nadu had been prevalent and still is admired by many. Tamil pride has been one of the major themes of the Dravidian movement. Now, here comes a convent educated, tip-of-the-tongue English speaking actor, embarking her political journey.
Look through this prism and her achievements are monumental. Take this prism off and her achievements are still monumental.
As the ruler of my state for many years, the major theme of her life has been “welfare” – Welfare of the the people or welfare of her subjects. To many, she was the Empress. In “The Republic,” Plato argues that countries must be ruled by Philosopher Kings. Some criticise this because its against democracy. In Jayalalithaa, we have had the best of both worlds – a person who deeply believed in democratic ethos and possessed all attributes that a philosopher will posses towards the welfare of the people and of the state.
One of the major schemes which has saved and continues to save countless lives has been Cradle Baby scheme. Female infanticide in India is not new and Tamil Nadu was no exception. A simple scheme where mothers can hand over their infants has provided many with a fair chance in life. The scheme which was started in 1992 is 24 years old. All who were saved by this scheme owe it to JJ. People who do not know Tamil Politics or Tamil Nadu should not wonder why millions call her ‘Amma.’ What do you call a person who saves lives? To the children who were protected and given an opportunity in life, she most certainly is.
In the middle of her political career she brought a controversial “Anti Forcible Conversion Scheme” which led some minorities to believe she may not be neutral. But alas, she was the one who fought for the rights of Scheduled Castes of other religions. For Dravidian politics, social justice is paramount and her continuous efforts towards this beginning with 69% reservation in education and various other schemes ensure, to a large extent, that Tamil Nadu has better indicators than many large states in India. The legacy of Dravidian movement was preserved, followed and expanded by her action, which sprung from her belief in social justice.
Some may wonder what many freebies had achieved in Tamil Nadu. Many in the right of economic spectrum had and continues to pejoratively call it as dole.
A scheme, where cycle was provided to girl children initially was expanded to cover many students in the state. Why should this be done? Well, if you want to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio of students, you cannot ask them to walk miles in parching sun. Macro headline numbers are achieved by micro planning and diligent and targeted execution.
Why should free mixer and grinders be provided? How long do you think that it takes to make batter for predominantly idli / dosa eating population? The labour substitution that these devices bring in change a woman’s life in kitchen. For most of us, this may not be a big thing, but for women who are poor (and there are many), this is a gift they will cherish. A two-hour additional time for them is two hours more work, selling vegetables or flowers, selling fish or being a maid in one more home.
Why should free laptops be provided? If literacy is defined upto 21st century as ability to read and write, it will be defined as ability to access and process information in 21st century. Chennai, being an IT hub and with students experimenting with laptops is how innovation is built.
She lived by “SALUS POPULI EST SUPREMA LEX,” meaning welfare of the people is the supreme law, which she quoted in one of her speeches.
There has never been a greater champion of federal structure than her. The earliest known is her speech in Rajya Sabha on 25th April 1984 on fair shares for states in a federal structure where she calls financial contribution by states to center as “States regularly part with massive sums of money – like sacrificial oblations at the altar of the Central Government.” This is not a one off incident and her recent stand on GST was borne out of this and still has very valid points which all other parties have ignored.
Few know that she fought for Tamil’s right to be declared as Classical Language in 1980s. How many of us know that Government of India had a condition that the language must be rarely spoken for a language to be declared as classical? She ridiculed this dubious rule with logic and reason.
From Indira Gandhi to Pranab Mukherjee to NT Rama Rao to Karunanidhi to Sonia Gandhi to Vajpayee, all have been at the receiving end of her blunt logic and direct unapologetic choice of words, all being in their prime of power.
The list can be endless; for the life has been so magnificent and all giving.
Women in India have broken many glass ceilings in the past. But never in Politics. It was always a support of a family which brought up women in politics. From Indira Gandhi to Sheila Dixit, people have had family backing to be successful in politics. The earliest person to break this was Jayalalithaa. In an indirect way, she has been forerunner to Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee.
For a culture which detests single woman, the public life of Jayalalithaa must serve as an inspiration. A life which has affected millions of people in enormously positive way is a goal which can be worth an attempt. In her, what we have is a near perfect role model for women to emulate, or attempt emulating. This doesn’t mean that one should be in politics. It means that women can excel in whatever the chosen field is. When last rites are performed by a woman, one of the last male fiefdoms is broken in Tamil Nadu. There are many to be broken, yet.
For a well read person, who often quoted poetry in English and Tamil, Tennyson sounds fitting.
Sleep sweetly, tender heart, in peace;
Sleep, holy spirit, blessed soul,
While the stars burn, the moons increase,
And the great ages onward roll.
Sleep till the end, true soul and sweet.
Nothing comes to thee new or strange,
Sleep full of rest from head to feet:
Lie still, dry dust, secure of change.