Jayalalitha Jayaram lives a lonely life in her beautiful bungalow in the posh Poes gardens area in Madras, just behind Stella Maris College which she had joined after her school. At that time, Jayalalitha wanted to be a lawyer or a literature scholar, but had to yield to pressures from her mother to give up college and become a film actress. Which she did with great success.
In this interview Jayalalitha, the latest among the crop of film star politicians and the propaganda secretary of the AIADMK, answered questions on a variety of subjects – ranging from her early life to her rise in the party as its de facto number two, from state autonomy to regional parties, from the future of the AIADMK to the “fall” of the DMK. Excerpts from the interview.
A: There is absolutely no relation between the two except that both involve hard work. Where films were concerned, I did work had, though unwillingly as I never wanted to be in films in the first place. I was compelled to join films by my mother. I was also made to learn dancing from the age of five. I hated it. But because I have this in me that whatever I do, I must do well, I did work hard. As far as politics is concerned, it was a voluntary decision. No one forced me to join politics.
Q: Do you feel regret when you look back on your film career?
A: When I see the turn my life has taken today, I would say it proved to be a blessing in disguise though I hated every moment of it while it lasted. At that time, I never envisaged this sort of future for myself. Now that I have become a politician, I find my film background a great help to me – it has given me a ready introduction to the masses. Other than that, I don’t think I am capitalising on my film reputation or my film fame. You must have the aptitude for this and you must have the will to work hard, also sincerity and dedication. Without that you can’t be a success.
Q: Have the people also accepted you as an alternative to the existing leader?
A: I have no comment to make on that. Because, why should we think of an alternative when the leader is very much there? Ultimately, it is the people who must decide. All that I am saying is that now the people do not look upon me as an actress. They have completely forgotten the image of the actress in me. There are no whistles, no catcalls where I go. They treat me with respect.
Q: How did this initiation into politics – into the AIADMK – evolve?
A: Well. MGR has been a major influence in my life. In fact, the most important influence in my life. In between, there was a period of separation, when I was away from him. When I came back into contact with MGR, having been always impressed and influenced by his way of life, thinking and policies, I naturally wished to follow his footsteps. I asked him whether I could join the party and he told me not to be in a hurry. He asked me to ask for a copy of the ideology of the party, the party’s policies and sit down and study them and see if I was in agreement with them. So I asked him again and he said all right and that’s when I joined, in June 1982 and became the propaganda secretary in January 1983.
Q: Don’t you think that was a quick promotion?
A: I suppose it all depends on the capability of the person concerned. My leader would not have given me the post unless he had confidence in me, I am sure.
Q: How come you were not inducted into the cabinet?
A: Well, if I have been made the party propaganda secretary, it does not follow as a natural corollary that I should immediately be made a minister. Now suppose MGR wants to utilize me for party work. If I became a minister I would not be able to devote any time for party affairs. At the moment, I feel party work is more important. It has to be strengthened, and there is a lot of work I am doing in the party, ever since I entered. And there was never any talk, from my side, about my being made a minister. MGR never indicated he wanted me to join the cabinet nor did I ever express any such desire. This was purely something created by the press and the opposition.
Q: When you joined the party, there were certain disadvantages…
A: When I joined the party, I joined just as an ordinary member, I was not straightaway installed in some elevated position. In the beginning I don’t think MGR had any idea of making me the propaganda secretary or anything like that. It was probably when I addressed a few meeting and he began to see the extent of the crowds that gathered, that this idea struck him. It was just a series of events, which might lead one to believe that all this is a carefully thought-out strategy. It can’t be so because no one can predict the degree of effectiveness of another human being. I myself did not think I was capable of all this until I began doing it. I never thought when I was an actress or when I was a dancer – no doubt I have appeared on stage at many functions as the chief guest, but never more than 10 minutes – that I could stand up on a stage and give an extempore speech for more than an hour, sometimes an hour and a half. And hold my audience captive till the end.
Q: What are your responsibilities as the party’s propaganda secretary?
A: On the administration side, where the party is concerned, I have a very big responsibility as the propaganda secretary. I have streamlined the organization to a very great extent, in the sense that until now, there has been no proper organisation at all for party work.
Propaganda is an all-encompassing word. Everything is contained within that one word because for any political party, any political organisation, propaganda is the body, life and soul. Without propaganda, there is no politics. The CM’s speeches spell out the party’s policies. So also my speeches.
It is also not enough if the ruling party simply comes up with good schemes. You have got to let the people know what is being done. And also, if the opposition slings mud at you and indulges in false propaganda, you must tackle that by counter-propaganda. No doubt, we have a number of very effective speakers in our party, a number of propagandists in all districts. But no guidelines were ever given to them, until I joined. There was no formal procedure. They were never told what they were supposed to say. No one ever cared to inform them as to what our party’s policy on such and such a matter was. If a particular issue arises, such as the Sri Lanka Tamils issue, everyone in the party right from the top to bottom must echo the same line – as the Communist Party where they don’t contradict one another because they are given guidelines. Nothing like that was done in our party earlier. I will not say it was intentional. As far as MGR was concerned, he had to run the party as well as the government. So, I would say no one really bothered to give proper guidelines to the speakers until I joined the party. Now, the chief minister is the policymaker of the party, being its founder-leader. So whatever he says becomes the party policy. I don’t create policies, the CM does. My duty is to propagate whatever policies he has in mind. The CM’s speeches are taken to be the guidelines. After that, since I am the propaganda secretary, today my speeches are the guidelines for all party members on what line we should take on important issues. So, I print all the important speeches made by the CM as books and also those by me. I get information from all the departments and include them in my speeches at different places. So I have all these speeches printed. At other times, I have printed just plain statistics, information at regular intervals. We send all this material to our party propagandists and tell them they should use only this information in their speeches. These booklets and pamphlets are also sent to party MLAs, MLCs, MPs, chairmen of the various boards – to everyone except the ministers.
Q: Does all this mean you have taken charge of the party?
A: Look, the party has a general secretary and other leading functionaries. I do have great responsibilities as the propaganda secretary.
Q: Great responsibilities or greater powers than others?
A: I am not using the word ‘power’ at all. As the propaganda secretary I have tremendous responsibilities, because each and every word that I utter, each and every action of mine is being watched as an example for the party people. Because what I say is the guideline for all of them to follow. And as far as the opposition, the critics and others are concerned, they are waiting for one false move to pounce upon me, right?
Q: Would they be as watchful as this if it was any other personality and not Jayalalitha?
A: For whatever it may be, today I am in a very responsible position. So I have to be very careful. Where there is responsibility of seeing that certain duties and certain procedures are carried out, then automatically you have to use the word ‘power’, because you have to see to it that others do what they are told, right? I think that is where you use the word ‘power’. Now when someone does not follow instructions or obey orders, we have to take disciplinary action against such people.
Q: Does the propaganda secretary initiate disciplinary action?
A: I give the instructions that this or that should be done. Now, suppose it has been brought to my notice that so-and-so has not done it, I send a complaint to the general secretary. He takes whatever disciplinary action that is necessary. That is all. I don’t have the power to issue disciplinary notices.
Q: What about the case of minister SD Somasundaram and Muthu, a senior party leader from Madurai, being issued a notice for not attending a public meeting?
A: Both these cases have been blown out of proportion by the press. What actually happened was this. When important occasions arise, it is my duty to fix meetings in all the major towns and depute speakers to each place. Where the speakers are leading functionaries and ministers, we ask them where it would be convenient for them to participate in the meetings. For the others the allocations are made by us. On one such occasion Muthu was scheduled to speak at a particular meeting and S.D. Somasundaram was supposed to address a meeting at another place. I received news that both of them did not turn up for the meetings. So it was not a show-cause notice. I do this to everyone. I just wrote a very polite letter, saying that on such and such a date, with your acceptance, after finding out your convenience, you had agreed to speak. I was informed you did not. May I know the reason for it.
And in fact SDS wrote back complimenting me for the interest I was taking in organizing party matters and inculcating discipline in the party ranks. He said he appreciated my stand. He told me because he was indisposed he could not go and he had already informed the town secretary about it. It is only when you fail to inform the person concerned and don’t turn up at all… In Muthu’s case, he too replied and it turned out the information I was given was false. He said he did go and did attend and that was the end of the matter. And he had requested I should take disciplinary action against the person who had given me false information and that was done. It was only the press that blew this up out of all proportion.
You too are mentioning these two matters because they have come out in the open. What about the hundreds and thousands of letters I have written to all the other party members? You mean to say they are less important because they are not ministers. I treat everyone alike that has instilled a feeling of confidence in the party cadre and given them a sense of dignity. They are very happy about it.
Q: Do you get reports from the police about your party activities?
A: No. They are not in any way concerned with our party work. I am only a party propaganda secretary. How can I ask the police?
Q: But a lot of noise is made of it and it is said that the state police intelligence reports to you?
A: I can’t help all that noise that is being made. There are so many rumours about me and I am not responsible for them. The rumour that the state intelligence department reports to me is absolutely false. I deny that totally. It is only a figment of somebody’s imagination. Even though we are the ruling party, I don’t see how we can involve the police in our meetings. This is simply not true.
Q: What, in your opinion, are the MGR government’s major achievements?
A: More than 80 per cent of India’s population lives in the villages and most of the villages, in fact practically in the entire north, you will find they are hardly fit for human habitation. They are in the wretched state and no Congress government, no other government in India, has thought of providing even the basic amenities to the people in the villages. It was only after MGR came to power that such schemes as the present ones were thought of. There were so many thousands of villages which did not have drinking water facilities, no link roads, no medical facilities, no electricity – they were like islands isolated from each other.
Under MGR self sufficiency scheme, all the 378 panchayats in the state – each panchayat has 50 villages – have protected water, link roads, child welfare and maternity centres, school buildings and all other basic amenities. Another major project is the nutritious noon meal scheme under which 65 lakh children are provided nutritious meals every noon. In addition to that, two lakh old age pensioners and destitutes get food and this year the scheme will be extended to even poor ex-servicemen and children up to 15 years age. This scheme costs the government about Rs. 140 crore and by the time the extensions come about, it might cost Rs. 200 crore.
Neither of the schemes has received any Central help and yet the state government has not levied any new taxes. These two major schemes are examples for the rest of the country and many other state governments have sent their men to study these schemes wanting to follow our example.
The Central government takes a lion’s share of the revenues and the powers given to the states are very much limited. Despite all these handicaps, at least the MGR government is trying to do a great deal and it is functioning far more effectively than any other government in the country. Every scheme here is aimed at bettering the life of the common man. No other government is even trying to do anything along these lines.
Q: From the budget it is also seen that there has been enormous increase in revenue from the sale of liquor. The government seems to feel as long as it gets money to fund its schemes, it is okay. Your comments.
A: There was prohibition during Kamaraj, Bhaktavatsalam and Anna’s rule. But when Karunanidhi became the CM he decided to abolish prohibition. At that time they had the party’s general committee meeting at Coimbatore and MGR, then in the united DMK, vehemently opposed this. Karunanidhi was determined and it was he who first scrapped prohibition. Please remember he introduced the sale of liquor here and had taught a whole generation of youngsters to drink. It was entirely because of him that a whole generation of people became addicts to drinks. After MGR became the CM, he brought back prohibition, but the addicts, mostly young people, took to illicit liquor which was dangerous. So MGR thought these people anyway have become addicts and are not going to stop drinking, let them at least have good stuff instead of drinking spurious liquor and ruining their health. That was the reason he had to give up prohibition, but MGR has vowed he will bring it back.
Q: Why has MGR undertaken the recent additions to the cabinet, based on caste considerations? Is he losing his charisma with the people?
A: It’s rubbish, sheer nonsense to say MGR is losing his charisma. Nobody can wish it away. He got massive crowds recently in Salem, Tiruchengode and also when he went on tour to the flood-affected areas. As for the cabinet inductions, is it wrong to give representations for backward classes in the cabinet? Is it wrong to give a status to these backward, suppressed sections, to give them political status? In the beginning, MGR wanted to have a small cabinet but soon he felt there were too many portfolios for each ministers. So he took in more persons. You cannot do everything in the beginning itself.
Q: What is your relation with MGR – as a person, as a political leader and an ex-colleague in the films?
A: He is one of the finest human beings I have ever come across. I admire him in every way. Basically, the relationship between him and me is that of a guru and a disciple. There are just two people to whom I have bowed my head, one is my mother and the other is MGR. It is not that I am arrogant. I have allowed myself to be dominated only by these two people. There can never be another figure in my life to whom I will ever be subservient, whom I will allow to influence me. Today MGR is everything to me. He is my father, mother, my mentor, my guide, friend, philosopher – everything. I can say I am one of his loyal and trusted lieutenants in the party and he can be sure I will carry out sincerely any work he gives me. He can always depend upon my loyalty and absolute honesty.
I do believe in what is called chemistry between two people. With some people you get along like a house on fire though you might have just met them. With some others, you just don’t hit it off no matter how many times you meet them, work with them. MGR and I hit it off very well right from the beginning. We enjoyed working with each other and I have learnt a great deal from him – his attitude to life, the way he treated others and I found everything about him very admirable. He is one of the persons I admire the most. The other person whom I admire very much is Margaret Thatcher. I have been Mrs. Thatcher’s admirer ever since I read her biography.
Q: Not of Mrs. Gandhi?
A: Don’t ask me something which I didn’t say.
Q: You admire a foreign Prime Minister. Why not our own?
A: Well, no comment.
Q: When two film stars have such a close relationship as you and MGR, tongues wag. How do you feel about that?
A: Tongues wag even for no reason at all. So, I don’t think we must pay heed to that. Tongues have wagged in his case linking him with others. Tongues have wagged in my case linking me with others. Our film industry is such, and particularly here in Madras, the atmosphere is such that even if you smile and laugh over a joke, people would at once say there is something between the two. That is one of the reasons why though in the beginning I was quite normal, in due course I went into a shell and used to sit in corner with my books, and not mingle with others on the sets.
Q: You said you will not allow anyone other than MGR to influence you in future. Does that mean you will not marry?
A: Now, you can put your own constructions on that sentence, but I wouldn’t wish to elaborate. I prefer to leave my comment at that. You can infer anything you want from that.
Q: How stable is your position in the party? There are reports that you have few friends with the AIADMK and there is jealousy and suspicion at your rise among senior partymen.
A: There is bound to be talk of all sorts. I cannot really comment on others’ speculations. My position in the party is very stable. You have said I have few friends within the party. But then I had always had very few friends. I have made one thing clear to my party people and that is, whoever accepts MGR as their leader is my friend and anyone who indulges in groupism and tries to work against MGR is my enemy.
Q: There is an opinion that you are just MGR’s prop in the party. Your comment?
A: This question is a very tricky one and not very nice. No matter how I answer it. There is no question of anyone being someone’s prop in the party. Unless a person proves he is worthy, no one can last being propped up. And you cannot gain a position simply by being propped up by someone else. So, there is no truth in that statement.
Q: Some say you could be a disadvantage to the AIADMK at the polls.
A: How do you mean? If I contest an election?
Q: No, at the campaign.
A: Well, I am definitely an advantage to the party and there is no disadvantage where I am concerned. I think I have already proved it in the campaign during the Tiruchendur assembly by-election. That has been the only election I have so far campaigned and the only other leader who can draw so many ladies to his meetings is the CM himself.
Q: How do you feel about the role of Karunanidhi as an opposition leader?
A: No other government would have had such an opposition as Karunanidhi. Half the government’s time now is spent having to put up with the protests, agitations and all the disturbances they cause. This is not responsible opposition. The CM would have done much more for the people if only he was given some peace of mind. Karunanidhi’s single-point programme seems to be to somehow unseat MGR from power. Today Karunanidhi is not the legitimate opposition leader. Haja Sheriff (Cong-I) is. But still, he is not functioning in a responsible way. The opposition must offer constructive suggestions and point out the government’s shortcomings, not try to pull down and destroy the government by means which are foul. I think Karunanidhi is gradually fading from the scene. And his future is absolutely non-existent, bleak in Tamil Nadu politics.
Q: How do you react to the complaints that the government is trying to influence the judiciary and bully the press?
A: There is a provision in the Constitution that the chief minister cannot be proceeded against for contempt of court for saying something within the assembly. Besides, MGR did not comment about any particular judge or any particular case while it was before the court. He made certain observations which I think were perfectly justified. Only some Congress(I) lawyers made a hue and cry about that and filed a contempt of court petition in the High Court. I remember, round about the same time, Mrs. Gandhi had made a speech strongly criticising the Supreme Court and the judges. She had made that speech at some function in Delhi. How come no one thought of hauling her up for it?
Q: What about the Tamil Nadu Press law?
A: The argument is that there is the Press Council and it will take care of the violation of code by the pressmen. Do you know how many times the government had addressed several representations to the council and did not even get an acknowledgement? Make sure that the Press Council will arrogate to itself such powers and take action against the erring papers and then we will think of withdrawing our law. Besides, MGR had only introduced an amendment to a parent Act enacted during late Kamaraj’s time. Why was it that no one raised any objections in the past? Karunanidhi had also used the law against newspapers during his regime.
Q: A lot of time was spent during the recent southern regional conference of the Congress(I) in criticising the regional parties. Your comment?
A: It was their party which was responsible for the division of India into states on a regional basis, on the basis of language. If they had wanted, they could have done it some other way. The growth of regional parties, which is only in the south, is mainly because all along the south has been feeling that it is getting a raw deal from the Centre. Until recently many in the north did not even know there were four different states here and there are four different languages spoken in the south. They just used to lump all southerners as Madrasis. They have a terrible superiority complex, these northerners. But that has been the main reason for the growth of regional parties. The people here were driven to it, I would say. And if you ask me, the Congress is also a regional party, being the protagonists of Hindi which is confined to just two states – Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Even in UP, Urdu dominates.
Q: How do you visualise your party as a national party, apart from calling yourselves the All India Anna DMK?
A: We do not just call ourselves so, we are an all-India party. There are many parties which have their roots in north India and have minimal representation in only one legislative assembly and don’t even have a party unit in several states. And yet they call themselves national parties and the press too accepts that. Whereas the AIADMK, the ruling party here, had been the ruling party in Pondicherry where we still have a very strong party unit, we have an MLA in the Karnataka assembly and have won some local elections there. We have a party unit in Andhra, in Kerala and in Maharashtra too. We are going to expand these units and so definitely we are entitled to call ourselves an all-India party.
As far as the AIADMK is concerned, we have absolutely no separatist ideas. That the Centre has been discriminating against us in many matters so far and it is there we feel the state should have greater powers.
Q: How do you view the opposition conclaves – are they doing the right things?
A: The conclave held at Bangalore was the only one that MGR attended. It was not an anti-Centre conclave but a meeting of the southern chief ministers. Kerala’s Karunakaran was also invited but he kept out. This conclave did produce results in that it led to the appointment by the Centre of the Sarkaria Commission to study Centre-state relations. On the other hand, take the other two conclaves at New Delhi and Srinagar, which were purely intended to be against one party, one person. Tell me, what did they achieve? If the purpose was to unite the opposition, that has not been achieved. Their programme seems to be only to topple Mrs. Gandhi. Blind opposition to Mrs. Gandhi without any reason behind it does not make sense. We don’t support that. That seems much the same as what Karunanidhi is trying to do here.
All this does not mean we blindly support the Centre, either. Recently, when there was a Central move to take over some sales tax items to the Central excise list, MGR opposed it. MGR was the first person to advocate nationalisation of river waters when he was the opposition leader here in 1975. Everyone laughed at him, and called it a bizzare suggestion. But now everybody is talking about it and that is the only way to ensure equitable distribution of waters.
Q: What is your opinion about the other non-Congress chief ministers?
A: I have a great deal of regard and respect for Hegde and I feel he is one of the really genuine politicians today with a lot of integrity and I find a lot to admire in him. He is a sincere politician and I would say Karnataka is very lucky to have a CM like him. I am sorry to see the way they are going about trying to topple his government.
My frank opinion is that the Farooq Abdullah government in Kashmir is indulging in activities that are anti-national. Such a sensitive border state probably should not be allowed to have a separate Constitution. Looking at the way Dr. Farooq Abdullah is going about, probably it would be better if they abolished that separate Constitution and made Kashmir just a state like any other state in the Indian Union.
Q: It is said the AIADMK is a one-man party, it revolves around MGR and that it has no strong cadre. Your comments?
A: What do you say of the Congress(I)? Whatever it is, the AIADMK is a party that works and the government is delivering the goods. There is already a committed cadre fully aware of Annaism which forms the basis for our policy.