The Empress - The Dramatic Life of A Powerful and Enigmatic Leader
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The Empress - The Dramatic Life of A Powerful and Enigmatic Leader

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Item Code: NAO684
Author: Kalyani Shankar
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd
Language: English
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 9789386606044
Pages: 152 (30 B/W & 4 Color Illusrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.0 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 270 gm
About the Book

The book captures the life and times of ' puratchi thalaivi' Jayalalithaa who through sheer will and determination rose to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1991. Under her leadership the AIADMK came to power four times: 1991, 2001, 2011 and 2016. Her death on December 5 was sudden.

For many, Jaya was a cult figure, who remained an enigma all her life. She could garner votes and pull crowds on the basis of her charismatic appeal, which she had cultivated during her initial years as a movie star. Her autocratic style brooked no dissent from her party whose members fawned over her wishes with slavish displays of obedience.

Hailing from the celluloid world, Jaya's life story runs like a screenplay. She excelled in two fields: films and politics. She was introduced to films by her mother and to politics by her mentor and the AIADMK founder M.G.Ramachandran, him-self a super star. From filmdom to politics, her life remains an interesting subject of study.

She was known as `Amma'( mother) to her voters , and though a Brahmin, her appeal transcended caste, language and creed. She pioneered welfare schemes and portrayed herself as the champion of the poor by introducing schemes to provide cheap food, medicines, cement and even mineral water.

The book portrays the ups and downs in her life, her legal and political battles and her political dominance in Tamil Nadu. Jaya may be dead, but she has ensured that her legacy lives on. She was an Empress when alive, and continues to reign from the afterlife.

About the Author

Kalyani Shankar is a political commentator and columnist. She was Political Editor at Hindustan Times and has been its Washington correspondent She was also a broadcast and television journalist.

Shankar was a Nuffield press fellow at Cambridge University and senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington. She is the author of Nixon, Indira and India: Politics and Beyond, India and the United States: Politics of the Sixties and Gods of Power: Personality Cult and Indian Democracy.


This is an updated version of the Jayalalithaa chapter from my earlier book 'Gods of Power'. I have been following Tamil Nadu politics for more than three decades as a journalist and have personally witnessed some of the events described in the book.

This is a political profile of the late Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, who was a cult figure. It was not easy to understand her cult status and her persona, as she was an enigma. She was a political personality to reckon with; not only at the regional level but also on the national stage. She returned to power four times despite allegations of corruption and was the accused in several court cases. She was even convicted by the Supreme Court in the Disproportionate Assets case after her death.

The book portrays her legal struggles, her politics, intrigues, and the ups and downs in her political as well as personal life. It analyses how she tackled these challenges and came out strong. The book will be of use to researchers especially as it is based on interviews with primary sources.

I wish to thank all those who had given me access to information and insight about Jayalalithaa including Tirunavukkarasu, Dr Subramanian Swami and Bhishma Narain Singh. My special thanks to former Chief Editor of the Hindu N Ravi for giving permission to use some of the rare photographs. Last but not least, my thanks to Bloomsbury, India, for publishing this book and the help given by the CEO Rajiv Beri and his team.


Preface vii
Prologue xi
A Cult Figure? 1
Early Years 4
Beginging of A Political Career 8
Relationships 11
Entry into Politics 13
Jaya's Political Life after MGR 29
Jaya's: The Woman An Iron Will 64
Towards the End 100
Postscript 106
Larger than Life 108
Shoes too Big to Fill 114
Sasikala Takes Over 116
Endnotes 130

Sample Pages

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