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April 1, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ J Jayalalitha

Part I: 'I don't [see myself as prime minister], but anything is possible in politics'

'I think I must begin to meditate because nowadays I find that my blood pressure is going up...'

As a youngster one has seen in you in Tamil films like Aayirathil Oruvan. When did you realise that there was a higher calling to your life, that you should take to public life, that politics was your goal?

That was in 1980, when Mr MGR invited me to join the AIADMK. Though I was interested in keeping abreast of current developments, of what was going on in the world, I never seriously considered an active career in politics for myself. So Mr MGR invited me to join the party in 1980, but I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to enter politics. So I took about a year and a half to make up my mind, nearly two years, and it was finally in 1982 that I took the plunge. And did join the party.

At that time, did you ever dream that one day you could become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, one day you could become an ally of the central government?

I never envisaged such a role for myself. I wasn't really ambitious. It was just that after a particular stage I stopped acting in films. And then I have always been a voracious reader. So I began to read the works of Swami Vivekananda. That influenced me a great deal. I then began to look around, I had time to reflect on the state of affairs in the country, I thought that many things were wrong with the state of affairs in the country and with our society. I thought something should be done to rectify all this. Then I thought I should play an active role. But that was only after Mr MGR invited me to join the party that I really decided to enter politics.

So you have been in politics for two decades. Do you think politics is your career compared to films, or do you feel that films was better?

(Laughs) No, I didn't enjoy my career in films, and I don't enjoy my career in politics either. I have said this many times before: I entered the film industry because of the influence of my mother, and I entered politics because of the influence of my political mentor, Mr MGR. I really came into politics just to be of help to him. Because he said he could not trust the people around him, and at that time his health was beginning to fail, and he wanted someone whom he could trust one hundred per cent, someone who he thought could be totally dependable and reliable. I really came into politics just to be of assistance and help to him.

I never thought that one day I would be the chief minister or that one day I would play a role in national politics. I never had such dreams for myself.

You were CM for five years. So when Tamil Nadu voted resoundingly against you, what was your reaction? What did you feel?

I thought the people were misled into believing that I had done something wrong. And I thought I should work to rectify that wrong impression in the people's mind. And I succeeded within two years. Yes, in two years, I was able to reverse that verdict.

Do you watch films now?

I don't have much time now, but I do enjoy watching films when I have the time. I like watching English movies, old ones, I like watching old Hindi movies, and old Tamil and Telugu movies. I don't like modern films very much.

Do you watch your own movies?

Very rarely. They show them on television all the time, so sometimes when I switch on the television and am flipping channels I catch a few glimpses.

I like music too, very much. I am a trained singer. I like Carnatic, South Indian music, I like classical Hindustani music, I like Western classical music, and I love Tamil, Telugu and Hindi film songs, the old ones.

Not the new ones?

(Laughs) Some of the new ones, maybe, but mostly the old ones.

You like A R Rehman?

Yes, certainly. Some of his songs are extremely good. He is extremely good.

You are known for the amount of books you read. What are your favourite books?

Oh, there are so many. Well, I read practically everything. When I was a child I read Rajaji's translation of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, when I was eight years old. I have read translations of the Ramayana and Mahabharata done by several other authors, but I still feel that Rajaji's version is the best. Because it was so lucid and clear, it could be understood even by children.

When I was a child, I was very fond of Hans Christian Anderson, Grimms, Enid Blyton and the Malory Towers series, and later, Denise Robins, Barbara Cartland, Mills and Boon. Later on I graduated to the heavy stuff. I have read practically all the classics. My real favourite authors are Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and, among others, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, Pearl S Buck, James Hadley Chase, so many others I can't recall all the names all at once. Somerset Maugham...

What's the book you are reading right now?

Right now I have got a whole lot of books, which I haven't had the time to even open... The latest one I read was Malice by Danielle Steel. And before that, Wild Swans... That was a book I was really impressed by.

I also read books on history, I have read the entire series on the Tudor dynasty written by Jean Plady, that was a wonderful series, I like her books very much. I read books on history, geography, science, philosophy, religion, fiction, everything. Practically no subject in which I am not interested. I read books on medicine, books on law, whenever I find time. Even when I was acting in films, there used to be some time in between shots, I always used to carry books with me to the studios, and when I wasn't required, when the lighting was being done for the next shot, I would sit quietly by myself in a corner. Probably all that reading is coming in useful today.

Do you surf the Net?

Sometimes, yes, I don't find much time for it. It is difficult to get a connection during the busy hours.

Do you meditate?

I don't find much time for it, but I think I must begin to meditate because nowadays I find that my blood pressure is going up...

Because of messy politics?

(Laughs) Perhaps that's the reason... All these days I was able to withstand it, but nowadays my blood pressure shoots up very often. I think I should start to meditate.

But I am very religious.

Do you go to temples?

No, but I pray at home. I don't go much to temples, though I do visit temples when I have the opportunity. But I make it a point to pray everyday and I make it a point to recite a lot of mantras and slokas [hymns], and that itself is a form of meditation, it takes me at least half an hour. When I have the time I do this for an hour and a half, but nowadays with hectic schedules half an hour is all that I can manage, sometimes even that becomes very difficult.

But that gives me a lot of inner strength and mental peace.

How many hours do you work a day?

Oh, there's no counting the hours, it depends on the given situation. But I am lucky if I can get to sleep by 1 am usually. And I usually wake up by 6 am. Sometimes the time I have to work becomes even longer, and that means several nights when I have gone without sleep, when I have been working all the 24 hours. Like, for example, during election time. Then there is really no opportunity to rest at all

To get back to politics, there was a lot of speculation about your meeting with Mrs Gandhi. Do you think it says something about the future of this government?

Perhaps, why not? The possibilities are endless in politics, and one cannot rule out anything.

To be blunt, can we expect a Congress-led coalition government supported by the AIADMK?

I can't comment on that now. At the moment there is no such possibility.

But by the end of this year?

I can't say.

Can we expect a general election by November, along with state elections in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka?

About 10 states are going to the polls in November, but I don't think anyone wants a general election to the Lok Sabha. So naturally I would also do my best to see that another election to Lok Sabha doesn't take place so soon.

At one time you had said you would review your support to this government at the appropriate time. Do you think there is going to be an appropriate time, because you know, at some time you will have to...

No, what I said was, I will review the question of my support to this government. That I said last year. And then I said, when I was asked a specific question, I said I will take an appropriate decision at the appropriate time. So that could be anytime.

Is there a deadline for this government in your mind?

No, no, nothing like that, nothing of the sort.

Let us assume that this government is replaced by a Congress-led coalition. Do you think that could be more stable, a better government, than this one?

 Jayalalitha with Sonia Gandhi
That is a hypothetical question. And as far as I am concerned, the era of coalition governments is here to stay. Even if we have another general election, or a mid-term poll, I think we will again have a hung Parliament. Certain surveys have been conducted by independent agencies, and this is the feedback they have given. There may be a slight swing either way, if there is a mid-term poll. Probably the Congress might get a few seats more, and the BJP may get a few seats less, but I don't think any party is going to win an independent majority for a long time to come.

So I think the era of coalition politics is here to stay. We have to work at perfecting, and improving, the coalition culture.

Do you see yourself as the prime minister at some point?

I don't, but anything is possible in politics. I never dreamt that I will become the chief minister of Tamizhnadu, so I don't know what the future holds for me.

Politics is the art of the possible?

I am not afraid of taking on any responsibility, but I don't have any personal ambition for myself.

When was the last time you met Sonia Gandhi? Many years back?

The last time I met her was, I think, in 1993 or 1994, when she had come to Sriperumbudur to visit the Rajiv Gandhi assassination site for the first time. I was chief minister then, she had come along with then prime minister Narasimha Rao, so protocol demanded that I go to the airport to receive Mr Narasimha Rao, that's when I met Mrs Sonia Gandhi for the first time.

After that you have not met her?

After that, no, I don't think we have met in person.

And you never talked to her on the telephone either?

I can't reveal that. We are in touch with each other.

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