She was called Amma (Mother), with fondness and admiration, with reverence and respect, by everyone regardless of their station in life – that showed an unflinching obedience and deference, familiarity and ownership – indicative of the kind of emotional and intellectual connection that existed between her and her people, seldom felt and seen anywhere else.
It was as if she owned the brand of “Amma” exclusively.
She earned it – in that there was no question, not even an iota of doubt!
The Iron Lady – The Fearless Lion, the Queen of Tamil Nadu, bringing a sense of pride to women everywhere, who was also its Chief Minister, the indomitable Jayalalithaa Jayaraman, died at 68, on Sunday, December 4th 2016, at 11.30 pm of ‘a massive cardiac arrest’, the Apollo Hospital said in a statement – leaving not just Tamil Nadu, but the whole Tamil world shocked, grief stricken and in disbelief. She was earlier ‘recovering well’ from a ‘Lung condition’ requiring ‘respiratory support’ and ‘passive physiotherapy’ which most thought was an acute case of pneumonia.
The President of India, Pranab Muckherjee couldn’t have been more apt, extolling Amma’s remarkable abilities and attributes in his tribute to her on Twitter before leaving for Tamil Nadu to pay his respects, his plane delayed because of some snags.
In some multiple tweets the President said this of Amma:
“One of India’s most charismatic and popular leaders, Ms Jayalalithaa was a visionary and able administrator. Her life was dedicated to the socio-economic transformation of Tamil Nadu and its people. In her passing the nation has lost an icon, who was loved and admired by millions. her contribution to the progress and development of Tamil Nadu will be long remembered.”
Although she never married, all of Tamil Nadu’s under privileged children were Amma’s children. Some called her Amma the ‘Goddess’ and their ‘Guardian Angel’ as she made her mark as the embodiment of compassion and generosity – especially in the eyes of the poor, further leaving her indelible imprint most surely as the hand that fed them and would continue to feed them, through the now famous ‘Amma Unavakam’, that served food and bottled water at a subsidised rate – add to that many more laudable initiatives – for those living below the poverty line, including providing medicines, medical treatment and educational opportunities, computers and bicycles for school children and much more. Empowering women by encouraging entrepreneurship, donating gold for their marriages and helping pregnant and nursing mothers. Increasingly this became her life’s mission. She championed the cause of the underdog, whether it was uplifting the scheduled class, or Eelam refugees, or safeguarding the interests of the Tamil Nadu fishermen or freeing the seven who were still imprisoned for Rajiv’s killing. Her indefatigability shone through all her battles – and battles she had many – including the Kaveri water dispute with the Karnataka State. A fighter till the end, she prevailed in most, except redeeming Kachchaitivu from Sri Lanka and the last one, when the inevitability of death came, but sooner than expected – For example her fight to succeed MGR as the leader of AIADMK was a fight she finally won and prevailed, after Janaki was forced to quit. She took on the reins, clashing with DMK, vowing to enter the Tamil Nadu Assembly again only as Chief Minister, and she did, serving five terms as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu from 1991 to 1996, in 2001, from 2002 to 2006, from 2011 to 2014 and from 2015 onwards..
Watch her two part interview dubbed as the, “Rendezvous with Simi Garewal – Jayalalithaa” to get an insight into Amma – an interview she willingly gave.
Watch also the 3 part BBC interview which she abruptly ended.
And the 4 part interview on TIMES NOW by its Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, dubbed “Frankly Speaking”. (part 4 – specifically involving the Eelam Tamil issue, war crimes and Kachchaitivu.
Ironically the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweets on her death, hit a nerve right at my heart as an Eelam Tamil:
“Deeply saddened by the passing away of Selvi Jayalalithaa, her demise has left a huge void in Indian politics. Jayalalithaa ji’s connect with citizens, concerns for the welfare of the poor, the women and the marginalised will always be a source of inspiration. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Tamil Nadu in this hour of grief. May the Almighty grant them the strength to bear this irreparable loss with courage and fortitude. I will always cherish the innumerable occasions I had to interact with Jayalalithaa ji. May her soul rest in peace,” Shri Modi tweeted.
Yes we are marginalised people and, “Eelam Tamils feel as grief stricken as the people of Tamil Nadu,” on Amma’s demise – I tweeted to Shri Modi, later watching him, live on Jaya TV as he came to sympathise and empathise, in a moving gesture of affection for Amma and her people.
As The Hindu put it, Amma became, “from a bitter critic (of the LTTE) to Eelam Champion,” beseeching the centre and even suggesting the army be sent to liberate Eelam, like Indira Gandhi did to create Bangladesh. As Chief Minister during LTTE’s time, during her first tenure she went after the LTTE, “entrenched in Tamil Nadu,” like a woman scorned, that many Eelam Tamils find hard to put behind them. For instance after Rajiv’s assassination, with AIADMK’s sympathy for the LTTE evaporating, she demanded that the Center ban the LTTE. In her second tenure she, “invoked the PTA on LTTE sympathisers, including Vaiko and later even wanted the LTTE leader extradited. During the height of the war, unfortunately for us, Amma believing the Sri Lankan government’s propaganda, backed by the UN, even accused the LTTE of using Tamil civilians as human shields. Some Tamils still hold that against her, despite her staunch support for them since 2009, while many others, began to develop a bond for her forthright and crucial support for Eelam Tamils thereafter.
Now for Eelam Tamils, a dark cloud that’s been hanging over them, is suddenly looking even more dark and gloomy without Amma. With the ground situation looking more grim and bleak than ever before, with no one quite knowing where constitutional reform is heading, a conundrum even for Tamil MP and TNA spokesperson, Sumanthiran, the man representing Eelam Tamils in the steering committee – the committee appointed to draft the new constitution. It’s becoming apparent that on Sumanthiran’s hands has been thrust the political destiny of Eelam Tamils. This in addition to transitional justice and any hope for a domestic war crimes trial being seemingly remote and the actual implementation of the UNHRC resolution, passed in October 2015, virtually dead as a door nail, there is a feeling of doom and gloom enveloping Eelam Tamils. At this critical time, the thought that Amma is no more is indeed truly daunting.
It’s slowly hitting home that the lone voice in the international arena, the only world leader who stood for Eelam Tamils, who stood with them and stood behind them, against Sri Lanka and the Indian central government, is actually no more. The one who in fact asked the center to, “stop calling Lanka a friendly nation.”
In my article, “At last Diaspora Eelam Tamils Recognised to Vote on Separate Eelam,‘ I quote Tamilnet on the historic move on Amma’s part to pass a unanimous resolution at the Tamil Nadu Assembly – that called, “for arrangements to be made at the level of the UN Security Council to conduct a referendum among Eezham Tamils in the island as well as in the diaspora on the question of a Separate Eelam. In addition, the resolution demanded the Government of India to “stop calling Lanka a friendly nation.” The resolution also included the earlier demands ie., Independent International Investigations on Genocide and War Crimes as well as imposition of economic sanctions on Sri Lanka. The resolution, unanimously passed, was moved by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa. ”
As for me, from anger at her rebuke of the LTTE, to respect for her turn around on principle, I saw myself developing an attachment for Amma, that was expressed in prolific writing: Click here, here and here.
My writings an illustration of my wonderment and admiration, at the way she provided strong, single handed leadership to protect Eelam Tamils, in defiance of the center, refusing to attend Narendra Modi’s inauguration, because Mahinda Rajapaksa was coming – defending her to the hilt when she had a conviction unjustly pinned on her for amassing, “disproportionate assets” brought on by her enemies, and put in jail, that took its toll on her, and expressing my delight when she was acquitted.
And then eventually becoming our rock, since after the war – Amma a lady of substance, someone whom we could lean on, depend on and count on to keep the Indian central government, working in our interest – which hopefully will resonate with and serve as a reminder to Prime Minister Modi and his government.
Amma’s passing away is a colossal loss for Tamil Nadu as much as it is for Eelam Tamils.
Nothing I say right now would suffice to show our gratitude to Amma, let alone the anguish I feel for the future of the Eelam Tamil people in Sri Lanka without her…because of the pain inside me…right now…except to say, “Thank You Amma!”
Amma was buried in a sandalwood casket, next to MGR in Marina Beach with a 21 gun salute and full military and state honours.
“Amma means love”, the TV station in her name, Jaya TV kept reiterating. Truly Amma will live on in the minds of her grateful people! Her heartfelt cry to her people was, “ungalaal naan, ungalukaka naan.”
I have only delved into Amma as a consummate politician and compassionate human being.
Her magnificent career in films is another awesome story…