It was only after her death that the rest of India has come to realize the true dimensions of Jayalalithaa’s greatness. A majority of the 88 million people of Tamil Nadu saw it, felt it and were under its spell for four decades. The tragedy is that, during her lifetime, the majority of her own countrymen were not fully aware of the intensity of her charismatic personality, the depth of her strength as a woman of substance and the clarity of her vision as a political leader.
As the late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was laid to rest with full state honours at Marina beach, in the presence of dignitaries and commoners, mainstream India became conscious, almost for the first time and much too late, of her intrinsic worth. It is said that Fame is the Recompense, not of the Living, but of the Dead. So it has proved in the case of Jayalalithaa. It is only after her passing away forever that she has been elevated to the stature of a national leader and not just a regional satrap.
As the sandalwood coffin containing her mortal remains was lowered to its last resting place next to the memorial of another amazing southern stalwart, her mentor M. G. Ramachandran, a sense of profound understanding flashed momentarily in the minds of millions of fellow-citizens in the North, West and East of the vast expanse of the land that is known as India. Many, perhaps, realized for the first time that the leader they had been yearning for to provide justice and good governance for the whole country, had been there before their very eyes all these years, and they had not noticed it.
For mainstream India, the past few days have been like a belated awakening. Till now it had never been acknowledged that behind the aloof and haughty exterior, Jayalalithaa was a leader of deep compassion and genuine grace. That when the Tamil people called her “Ämma”, it was much more that an endearing nickname, but it captured the spirit of the relationship between her and her adoring public, that of a benevolent and protective mother who understood their needs.
That there was something deeper than over-zealous party propaganda in the title of “Puratchi Thalaivi” that was bestowed on her – she was indeed a Revolutionary Leader in word and action and her pro-poor Welfare policies were more radical and revolutionary than merely populist. Again, too late for her and perhaps too late for India as a whole, it is also beginning to dawn on the national conscious that Jayalalithaa’s development model for Tamil Nadu could well be the Model of Development that India has been looking for. Her economic policies have evolved through the years, with the experience of her many tenures as Chief Ministers, into a complex and intricate package of targeting and catering to individual sections of the diverse population of the State.
Each strand of her policy prescriptions was tailor-made for specific demands, sector by sector – big industry, small business, foreign investment, agriculture, rural industries, urban poor, basic schooling and higher education, primary health and advanced medical care, et al, the list of individual interests is endless. Each strand is separate and yet woven seamlessly into the overall tapestry of holistic economic policy.
Contrary to the myth about the benefits of the Gujarat model of development, future rulers in Delhi may well find that the Tamil Nadu model of development may be more appropriate for India with suitable adaptations and fine-tuning.
Now that the visionary leader who embroidered this elaborate socio-economic fabric of multi-faceted policies is no more, it may not be politically incorrect to state that it is a matter of eternal regret that the country never got the opportunity to experience Jayalalithaa at the helm of national affairs.The flood of tributes and wave of eulogies after her passing away may have washed away many of the misconceptions about Jayalalithaa’s persona and watered down many of the harsher truths of her past life and present politics. This is as it should be. But her legacy would be more worthwhile if the good that she leaves behind lives after her, rather than being interred in her mortal remains on Marina Beach and quickly forgotten.
At the very least it should be remembered that among the many qualities of head and heart which this truly remarkable and colourful woman of substance displayed during her lifetime, three aspects stood out – her incredible charisma, her astounding leadership skills and the sheer strength and courage of her personality. Beyond her exquisite good looks and regal bearing, she exuded a glow and a radiance that could only have come from deep inside. Those who think that beauty is only skin-deep have still not understood Jayalalithaa. And never will.