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'60% of MLAs and MPs are there because of Sasikala'

By Shobha Warrier
December 06, 2016 13:44 IST
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IMAGE: Sivaji Ganesan, M Karunanidhi, MGR and Jayalalitha in happier times.

'A person who came to take care of Jayalalithaa's personal needs slowly took control of her political life.'
'Today, 60% of MLAs, MPs and office-bearers have reached there because of Sasikala and only the rest are the followers of MGR and Jayalalithaa.'

In 1972, Durai Karunanidhi, all of 18, joined the newly formed All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam launched by movie superstar M G Ramachandran, which is why the 62 year old likes to call himself one of the party's founder members.

As a journalist then working for AIADMK-owned newspapers, he had a close interaction with J Jayalalithaa who was part of the party from the very beginning.

After retiring from active journalism and party work, Durai Karunanidhi has written 12 books on Jayalalithaa, compiling her speeches and work under the name Amma -- Pugal Mayyam.

In a conversation with's Shobha Warrier, he remembers the Jayalalithaa he knew from back then and her journey in the party from 1982, from the leader of the youth wing to, ultimately, the supreme leader.

The first time I met Jayalalithaa Amma was in 1981 when the government under MGR organised a world Tamil festival in Madurai.

She had prepared a dance drama on Tamil Nadu, Kaveri Thantha Kavichelvi and did the main role. I was there to write about the festival for the party newspaper.

She was a very famous film star then, but when I met her and congratulated her for her performance, she thanked me with a smile.

When MGR started the party in 1972, I was just 18 and was extremely attracted to him and his ideals. So, I along with a few friends joined the party in 1972.

In 1982 when she was officially inducted into the party by MGR to take charge of the youth wing, we youngsters were very thrilled as we were seeing a young woman in charge.

Seeing her sincerity and dedication and the appeal she had on youngsters and women, in 1983 MGR made her the party's propaganda secretary.

In this role she was extremely committed and would come to the party office every day at 10 am and would work till 5 in the evening, sometimes even later.

She would meet every single party member and every member from the public who came to the party office.

She would collect the petitions from them directly and pass them on to people like us to follow them up.

She would tell us to arrange the petitions and send them to the respective departments.

She would write covering letters signed as J Jayalalitha to all the ministers asking them to update her or MGR on each petition, a copy of each letter would also go to MGR at Ramavaram Gardens (the chief minister's residence).

Let me give an example of how sincere she was in her work. An old lady who had submitted a petition came back after a week as her grievance was not attended to.

When Jayalalitha came to know about this, so livid was she that it was not drawn to her attention by the person in charge that she immediately asked the person to leave the office.

One thing she could never tolerate was dereliction in duty.

By 2, 2.30 pm, she used to go home for lunch. Sometimes, when she was about to get into her car, if someone from far away had come to see her, she would ask, 'Shall we go back to my room and talk?'

IMAGE: Jayalalithaa and MGR in the 1970 Tamil film, Engal Thangam.

As chief minister, MGR could not devote much time to the party, and the duty to meet party members and people rested on her.

I would say she was the bridge between party members, the public and MGR, and she did that job admirably well.

She could bring all the issues to MGR's attention and solve each and every problem. She was very particular about solving every problem that came to her attention.

She used to be very friendly with all of us and talk to us as if we were equal. She had an excellent memory, remembered all our names, and called us by our names.

Though she was young, we youngsters within the party used to call her Amma out of respect. The other people who dealt with her addressed her as Madam.

As I was working for all the papers and magazines published by the party, I used to meet her quite often, in fact daily, at the party office.

I went with her on all her tours, to cover her meetings across Tamil Nadu. From the time she took over as propaganda secretary, I may have travelled at least 30,000 kilometres with her all over the state.

In each place, she would call the field workers to her room to find out what the people of the area needed the most, what their problems were, and she would note them down.

In her speeches, she would promise people that she would take their problems to MGR and solve them.

She also would call all of us and ask what the response of the people had been to her speeches and we would have long discussions on it.

She wanted to know whether she connected with the people through her speeches and action. After each tour, she would make copies of her speeches and send them to all the district secretaries, MLAs and MPs.

From 1988, when she was made the general secretary of the party till the 1989 elections, she had toured all of Tamil Nadu.

She used to cover one district in 4, 5 days. They were such hectic tours, but she was all charged up those days. Her tireless energy surprised us all.

I was witness to the way she was insulted on the van that carried MGR's body (in 1987).

She was about to sit after removing a garland from MGR's face, and some of (former minister) R M Veerappan's supporters asked her to get down.

Then (MGR's wife) Janaki Amma's brother shouted at her, 'keezhe erangudi (get down from the van)!' Then, another person pulled her down.

If some of her supporters had not been there, she would have fallen down.

She was friendly and approachable even after she became chief minister in 1991. During the 1991 to 1996 period she used to meet the media and party office-bearers.

She used to attend functions in many districts. Even between 2001 and 2006, she was accessible as chief minister.

From 2011 onwards, nobody -- not even those who knew her from before -- could meet her in person.

Every interaction was done only through Sasikala Natarajan. She became a mediator between Jayalalithaa and party members and even ministers.

It is but natural that those of us who knew her from the beginning felt bad because we could not meet her directly.

If someone wanted to meet her, it was possible only at the secretariat where Sasikala was not present.

A person who came to take care of Jayalalithaa's personal needs slowly took control of her political life.

Today, 60% of the MLAs, MPs and office-bearers have reached there because of Sasikala. Only the rest are followers of MGR and Jayalalithaa.

The last time I met her was in May after she won the assembly elections. I met her when she came out of the assembly.

I had taken with me copies of the book Amma -- Pugal Mayyam, a compilation of her speeches and works.

She thanked me for the books and also remembered to ask how I was, how my family was and whether all were healthy.

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Shobha Warrier /