In the past two days, I have been reading and watching about the enigmatic woman leader in Indian politics – Jayalalithaa. To be honest, the kind of information that I had accessed to made me realise that here is a woman who brushed aside all the turbulences and challenges that life had thrown at her, became one of the most revered woman leader India has seen in recent times.
Her life story itself is inspiring – inspiring enough to take challenges head on. She is a great example of how to be confident when the tides are high and you can’t swim to the shore. For every bully she had to face in her school who used to comment on her mother’s profession, she got back by being the topper of every school exam.
She learnt new languages – was fluent in five and had impeccable command over all of them including English – the reason great MGR wanted her to be a member of the Rajya Sabha. And Jayalalithaa was duly nominated for the post and elected to the Upper House in 1984 and retained her seat until 1989.
Her interests were varied – she was trained in classical music, western classical piano, and various forms of Indian classical dance, including Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Manipuri and Kathak. She was widely respected by the Indian film industry. Her foray into politics was also charted by MGR – whom Jayalalithaa considered to be the ‘hero’ of her life apart from her mother.
It’s humbling to read such great things about a person who was multi-talented and to know that when you believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter which side of the boat you are rowing. You row towards success.
Known for being tough, autocratic yet compassionate leader – she wielded magic on her supporters. They flocked to her calling ‘Amma’ and worshipped like a Goddess-reincarnate. Her political career was not devoid of criticisms, and being a woman politician didn’t give her any edge. In 2014, she was sentenced to 4 years of imprisonment and fined Rs 100 crore by the Special Court instituted in Bangalore for an 18-year old disproportionate assets case. Her CM candidature was automatically disqualified; the sentence was later suspended by the Supreme Court in 2014 itself and also acquitted by a special Bench of the Karnataka High Court in 2015. Jayalalithaa was again elected as CM of Tamil Nadu in the May 2016 elections.
In her victory speech, she commented, "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."
Our Indian political history is full of powerful examples of women leaders and yet we have to struggle to get women on board of our Indian corporates. Ironic. Not that political leaders like Amma had a very easy way out – None. It was perhaps more complicated for her. But we don’t take those examples and create a new dimension in our work culture. Politics has only gained with women leaders like her – and it’s time corporates do the same.
Jayalalithaa created an aura about herself in the minds of her supporters – something that any leader-aspirant needs to create in order to succeed. It’s not easy. Understanding the pulse of the masses and then acting upon their needs yet keeping your Party at the helm of every political decision is not easy. In organizations, you don’t see such democracy happening. Because organizations don’t allow employees to be the part of the policy-making body.
Amma was in critical state for the past few months – she recovered and yet when she breathed her last on Monday, she left a legacy which is hard to fill. Her arch-rivals paid respect to her – not because it was a party duty, but because she commanded that respect even when passed away. It’s not easy. A lot of us have seen, when one of your close aides (parents/relatives/siblings) dies – people around you change – as if death brings with it an infinite weight of behavioural difference.
Amma’s death reminded me of one thing – a leader is someone who not only wields power, but leadership is about the other people who look up to you for an inspiration – to be able to find a personal connect, trusting someone, to chart a path, to enlighten them with positivity yet show the light so that people get motivated to debate, discuss and remember your legacy forever.
Videos credit: Rendezvous with Simi Garewal; Copyright @ Siga Arts International