Ms. Jayaram had built a system that did not allow anyone to compete with her, said A. R. Venkatachalapathy, a historian, who compared her to a mythical Greek king who, to teach his subjects a political lesson, cut off any plant that rose above the others.
“Over the last 25 years, what Jayalalithaa has done is ensured that there was no second line, no third line, no fourth line, that there was not a single leader who had his own support base,” Mr. Venkatachalapathy said. “She ensured that everyone in her party was dependent on her and her alone.”
Ms. Jayaram’s autocratic style in no way diminished her popularity, and may have enhanced it, especially among the poor, lower-caste women who were her most devoted followers. She expected slavish displays of devotion from top bureaucrats and party functionaries, watching coolly as they lay full-length at her feet and pressed their faces to the floor.
“She not only made men fall at her feet, she made it a spectacle,” Mr. Venkatachalapathy said. “Women really liked that.”
She presided over a well-run state, with high literacy rates and low child mortality. She started numerous programs tailored to the poor, many of them named after herself, with healthy meals available for pennies at “Amma canteens” and subsidized medicines at “Amma pharmacies.”
It was no secret that she enriched herself in office. In 1995, during a period when she claimed to earn a salary of 1 rupee per month (about three American cents at the time), she staged an opulent waterfront wedding for her foster son that included 40,000 guests and a formal sit-down dinner for 12,800. In 2014, a judge found her guilty of illegally accumulating around $10 million in tributes during her first term.
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