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Jayalalithaa, a leader whose politics had substance, style and emotion: Jaitley

In the passing away of J Jayalalithaa India has lost a rarest of a rare political leader. Her exceptional leadership qualities made her stand out. Her personality presented an awkward mix. Though she commanded awe, yet at personal level, she was communicative, warm and extremely articulate. She never minced her words. It is difficult to forget interactions with her. There were several distinct features of her personality and political career for which she will be remembered.

Her emotional connect with her people was unparalleled. She commanded unflinching loyalty and respect. Her constituents saw hope emanating from her. She inculcated a sense of faith in her people who believed that she could resolve all problems and lead them to progress.

She had unparallel capacity to go alone on a path she decided for herself. She could walk alone. She showed determination. Adversity did not deter her. Political defeats and adverse judicial verdicts were part of her struggle. They could not write her off. She emerged stronger from every adversity. She converted these adversities by projecting them as wrong done to her and eventually emerged victorious. Political defeats were reversed and judicial verdicts were upturned.

This enabled her to play the victim card.

She learned her politics while being in the job. Her politics was combination of both policy and welfarism. Her concentration on policy helped her to develop Tamil Nadu into a strong manufacturing State. She made Tamil Nadu into an investment destination. The increased resources with the Government helped her to pursue the politics of welfarism. Some considered her welfare politics as mere populism. She was convinced that the State needed to grow economically, earn greater revenues and use these revenues both for infrastructure and for poverty eradication.

Her welfare model consolidated her emotional connect with the people who considered her a messiah.

Her grip on administration and policy was complete. Amongst contemporary political leaders, Ministers and Chief Ministers that I have interacted with, most could discuss issues and policies in generalities. The finer details were left to the civil servants to explain. Jayalalithaa ji was a clear exception. She led from the front. She was always specific — never casual. Her advisors and civil servants sat quietly around her when she guided the entire discussions.

Whilst in Opposition, I discussed with her some of the alleged scams during the UPA regime. She could go into finer details of each issue with complete clarity. Later whilst in Government, the discussion of Central assistance to Tamil Nadu, the GST or the situation caused last year by the Chennai floods displayed her complete grip on each subject. The civil servants intervened in the discussion only when asked to. Otherwise, she was the master of all facts and arguments to support her viewpoint. Her articulation enabled her to emphasise what needed to be emphasised.

One of her most sterling quality as a leader of regional party was her strong nationalist credentials. On issues such as terrorism, insurgency, external and internal threats, she rose to the occasion and spoke as a staunch nationalist. She would cast aside narrow vote bank considerations when it came to issues of insurgency either in Tamil Nadu or in any other part of the country.

She knew clearly which side of the divide she was on.

Her transformation from a cinema personality to a political leader was remarkable because of the substance and style that her politics represented.

(The writer is the Union finance minister)


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