Picture courtesy: Henri Carrières

Tamil Nadu’s very own ‘Amma’ passed away late Monday night due to cardiac arrest, inspite of being kept under respiratory support for hours. One of the most powerful and influential chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, the sudden loss has caused a wave of mourning across the state.

Born on 24 February 1948, at Melukote, in Pandavapura taluka, then in Mysore State (now Karnataka) , Jayalalithaa was the daughter of Jayaram and Vedavalli, a Tamil Iyengar Brahmin family. Jayalalithaa was given her grandmother’s name Komalavalli at the time of birth. The couple Jayaram-Vedavalli had two children: a son Jayakumar and a daughter, Jayalalitha. Her mother, her relatives and later co-stars and friends referred to her as Ammu.

Jayaram, Jayalalithaa’s father, was a reputed lawyer, who died when she was just two years old. Her mother Vedavalli’s younger sister, Ambujavalli had moved to Madras since 1948 and was acting in dramas and films using the screen name Vidyavathy since 1951. After a while, Jayalalithaa’s mother Vedavalli also relocated to Madras and stayed with her sister since 1952. While still in Bangalore, Jayalalithaa attended Bishop Cotton Girls’ School. 

She made her acting debut as a child actor in 1961, in the Kannada-language Sri Shaila Mahathme (1961), which had Rajkumar and Krishna Kumari in lead roles. She had 11 successful releases in Tamil in 1966.  She became a regular heroine for production house Devar films from 1966. After that there was no looking back. She had a successful career and won numerous accolades and awards for her acting.

Her political career began around the year 1982 under MG Ramachandran, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu since 1977.  In 1982, she joined the AIADMK, which was founded by Ramachandran. She was nominated and elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1984 and retained her seat until 1989. She was elected to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly in 1989 as a representative of the Bodinayakanur (State Assembly Constituency). This election saw the Jayalalithaa-led faction of the AIADMK win 27 seats and Jayalalithaa became the first woman to be elected Leader of the Opposition. Following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi days before the elections, in 1991, her alliance with the Indian National Congress enabled her to ride the wave of sympathy that gave her the coalition victory. Re-elected to the assembly, she became the first female, and the youngest chief minister, of Tamil Nadu to serve a full term, serving from 24 June 1991 to 12 May 1996. However, in the 1996 elections, she lost power. In 2001, after being acquitted of some charges, she went on to become the chief minister until 2013.

In 2014, Jayalalithaa was sentenced to four years in jail and fined Rs 100 crore by the Special Court in Bangalore. She was convicted in an 18-year-old disproportionate assets case on the basis of Income Tax reports against her and was automatically disqualified from the post of CM and the legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu. SHe appealed the case and was reinstated as the chief minister in 2015 and was also re elected in 2016.

She had commented in her victory speech, “Even when 10 parties allied themselves against me, I did not have a coalition and I placed my faith in God and built an alliance with the people. It is clear that the people have faith in me and I have total faith in the people”.

Her illness caused quite a stir after Apollo Hospitals posted about her cardiac arrest on twitter. Thousands of people had gathered around to show their support outside the hospital. Venkaiah Naidu, flew down to Chennai to take control of the situation.Security has been stepped up across the city.  Para military forces were also on standby to handle the crowd in case of any emergency.

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