The Iron Ladies – Photo Courtesy: Political Mirror
As Jayalalitha’s cortege reached MGR Memorial near Marina Beach in Chennai, the solemnity of the occasion triggered a volley of thoughts in my minds. A panelist on some English news channel casually remarked how similar the struggles of Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee have been and I could not agree more.
Jayalalitha, who ruled the silver screen before taking the political plunge, was the protege of MG Ramachandran, the founder of AIADMK. She was the Propaganda Secretary of the party and went on to become a Rajya Sabha MP in 1984, the same year Mamata Banerjee emerged as a ‘giant-killer’ in Jadavpur, making her way to Lok Sabha.
After MGR’s death, Jayalalitha had to face stiff competition from within her party. Late MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran apparently did not even allow Jayalalitha to attend MGR’s funeral. The party headed for a split with the political future of Jayalalitha under question. AIADMK faced crushing defeat in the 1989 Assembly elections.
Mamata Banerjee’s feud with West Bengal Pradesh Congress is well-known. In the 1990s, the State Congress had virtually turned into a party of watermelons (green on the outside and red on the inside). Some senior leaders colluded with the Left to keep their Delhi ambitions afloat. From the famous ‘Outdoor’ Congress Party meet in 1996 to the subsequent formation of Trinamool, Mamata Banerjee’s struggle followed similar course as Jayalalitha’s.
Both Didi and Amma battled it out in a man’s world. With grit, determination and strong will-power they held on to their forte of mass appeal and galvanised the cadre and won the trust of the people. While Jayalalitha rode to power in 1991 as Tamil Nadu’s first female CM, Didi swept the polls in Bengal two decades later.
Even as the administrative heads of their respective States, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha pursued similar policies. Inclusive governance through social empowerment seems to have been their guiding force. From fair price medicine shops to fair price vegetable stores, subsidised food to affordable healthcare, both the leaders have worked for the masses. In fact, despite the ‘populism’ economies of both Tamil Nadu and Bengal have prospered under the leaderships of Jayalalitha and Mamata, respectively.
There are very few mass leaders in India who command the love and respect of millions of people. The outpouring of grief and the sea of humanity at Marina Beach today is a testimony of Amma’s popularity. And Didi’s charismatic popularity can easily be gauged during her district visits, or from the massive turnout on annual 21 July rallies in the heart of Kolkata. Interestingly, the support of women forms a big pillar behind the success of both these leaders.
With Jayalalitha in heavenly abode now, the future of India rests on the Tigress of Bengal, specially in these tumultuous times. The days to come will determine how posterity scripts the history of the times we call the present Indian political scene.