Washington: The legacy of “Iron Lady” J Jayalalithaa will be remembered forever as she has left a huge void in Indian politics, Indian-American Tamils have said with the diaspora condoling her demise and grieving the loss of their beloved leader.
“The legacy of the Iron Lady, as she is fondly remembered by many, who had rocked Indian politics, will be remembered forever. None has shown the courage which Jayalalithaa evinced in her political life,” Dr Rajan Natarajan, who served as the Deputy Secretary of State in Maryland and now serving as the Commissioner of Transportation, said.
“An authoritarian, a visionary and a leader full of guts and grit, she has left a huge void in Indian Politics. ‘Amma’ (mother), as she was always fondly referred to by the masses, she is indeed a mother of many comebacks in her political life,” Natarajan, the first Indian-born Tamil American who served in the highest administrative position in US history, said on Wednesday.
While he was serving as the chief diplomat of Maryland, Natarajan had several opportunities to interact and work with Jayalalithaa’s cabinet and her government officials on many projects like Sister State, education, energy, transportation, and medical technologies.
Upon her invitation, he had led a 20-member business delegation from the US and participated at the Global Investor Summit in 2015. It was his first opportunity to meet with Jayalalithaa in person and also one of the shining moments for him to admire her leadership, Natarajan said.
“She is like the legendary bird Phoenix. Bounced back from every challenge, when the world thought she gone every time. I wish she could come back to life again like a Phoenix, throwing out the challenging god has imposed on her and to work on her dreams and vision to make them a reality.
“Amma Jayalalithaa was a leader who has not only made an unrepeatable history in India and also become a true role model for millions of women to realise their power in public service and make betterment of the society and nation,” Natarajan said.
He said, no doubt that Jayalalithaa was an exemplary and extraordinary leader for the ordinary people, particularly for the poor and the middle class. She had implemented numerous welfare programs and rural development schemes for ordinary citizens, which no other state’s chief minister still has been able to do.
“After Secretary Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa back in 2013, Clinton mentioned she is incomparable and strongly determined leader, and she has been an embodiment of woman empowerment,” Natarajan said.
Observing that Jayalalithaa’s demise signals the end of an
era of celluloid image politics in Tamil Nadu, a well-known Indian-American professor has said her success will be an inspiration for women who aspire to become a leader in India.
“Jayalalithaa’s demise signals the end of an era of celluloid image politics in Tamil Nadu where mass media access paved the way for colourful political careers for several decades,” said Ram Mahalingam, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
“Her appeal to women emboldened her to expand many popular social welfare programs, a legacy of the Dravidian parties, while resisting the pressures of neoliberalism. Her charisma and connection to people enabled her to achieve this.
“She was a firm and independent decision maker who was the supreme leader of her party. Her success will be an inspiration for women who aspire to become a leader in India,” Mahalingam said.
Sriram Mohan, a doctoral candidate in communication studies, said in the era of 24/7 news television and social media, it would be tempting to stick to the script and paint Jayalalithaa as a corrupt, authoritarian leader who encouraged servility from her supporters and demanded silence from her detractors.
“While these concerns are neither untrue nor irrelevant, it would be a travesty to speak of her legacy only on these registers. It would be remiss to not touch upon her record of standing up to successive national governments over the rights of the states or her rather consistent commitment to nutrition, education and women’s rights.
“They show up in the state’s impressive vaccination record, its high proportion of women police personnel to specifically address the issue of violence against women, and in her decision to provide free bicycles to girl students from Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe communities in order to sustain enrolment in high school,” Mohan said.
“In the same vein, any account of her political career must also address the concerns around the disproportionate assets cases and her use of state machinery to suppress dissent. However, it would also be important to think of her rise through what was a patriarchal political sphere,” Mohan added.