The day was March 25, 1989. A little over two months ago, elections had been held in the Southern state, the first after the death of MGR, who had been Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, ever since his victory in the 1977 elections. MGR died in 1987 and in the months and years that followed, his AIADMK party seemed to be falling apart.
On one side was MGR’s wife, Janaki Ramchandran and on the other side, his protege J Jayalalitha, with whom MGR enjoyed a complex relationship. The in-fighting doomed AIADMK and DMK patriarch stormed back to power in 1989, winning 150 seats in the 194 member assembly. The elections doomed Janaki and henceforth Jayalalitha became the Prima Donma of AIADMK.
On that day, as Karunanidhi rose to deliver the budget in his capacity as the CM cum Finance Minister, the leader of the Opposition, Jayalalitha Jayaram, yelled ‘Kutravali’, or Criminal at Karunanidhi. A few days ago, Karunanidhi’s government had ordered Police raids against Sasikala’s husband. In light of this, Jaya had decided to submit her resignation to the speaker. Mysteriously, the resignation letter was leaked to the public, infuriating Jaya beyond measure.
Jayalalitha was miffed at the way she and her close colleagues were being targeted by the government, which led her to interrupt Karunanidhi’s budget speech. Karunanidhi is alleged to have hurled personal remarks against Jaya and that is when all hell broke loose. AIADMK members rushed to assault Karunanidhi and pandemonium broke out. Chappals were hurled and microphones broken as DMK and AIADMK members clashed with each other.
As Jaya sought to leave the house, she was attacked by DMK minister, Durai Mururgan. While, Jaya’s supporters were able to ward off Murugan’s attacks, his hand caught hold of jaya’s saaree. In a matter of seconds, Jayalalitha Jayaram, emerged outside the Tamil Nadu Assembly, dishevelled and her Pallu astray. Weeping, she drew parallels between herself and Draupadi and vowed never to enter the house till the government was dismissed and conditions created which guarantee a woman’s safety in the assembly.
The assault on Jayalalitha ‘s dignity gave the AIADMK cadres the issue they had been waiting for.
MGR’s legacy would now be carried forward by Amma. Jayalalitha stitched together an alliance with Rajiv Gandhi and swept the Lok Sabha polls in Tamil Nadu, held later that year. In a matter of 2 years, the DMK government was dismissed on account of its closeness with the LTTE. When elections were held in 1991, AIADMK under Jaya’s leadership won 225 of the 234 seats. DMK was obliterated by the electorate and could win only 7 seats. Amma was enthroned as the Queen of Tamil Nadu.
This was before Jayalalitha became infamous for her shoes, her sarees, her corruption, the lavish wedding of her foster son and her closeness with the venal Sasikala and her aides. This was a Jayalalitha who had overcome challenging odds to defeat Goliath. There is another side to the story as well. Depending on the source it is variously claimed that the attack never happened or Jayalalitha exaggerated the magnitude of the attack to win sympathy. Given that Jayalalitha is renowned for her political shrewdness, this seems plausible. Whatever might or might not have happened that day, it catapulted Jayalalitha on to the national scene. First was the alliance with Rajiv Gandhi, then came the alliance with Atal Behari Vajpayee. For the greater part of the decade, Amma, whether in power in Tamil Nadu or out of it, remained the Kingmaker at Delhi.