The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party conference was organised on a big scale at Cuddalore, south of Pondicherry, and the whole town thronged to hear the star speaker who was to give her maiden political speech, which she had written herself. They mainly came to see a pretty face, and were instead treated to an impressive, fiery oration.

In the star-spangled politics of Tamil Nadu this was a new glamorous entry that raised many eyebrows. On 4 June 1982, Jayalalithaa had joined the ruling AIADMK party and became a card holder by paying one rupee. At Cuddalore she was taken round the streets in a carnival-type procession which the DMK described in its party paper as the “Cuddalore cabaret”.

What made her take this first step into the political world? People who knew her said she was intellectually accomplished, had little in common with people from the film world and wanted to make the right use of her talents. She herself said it was her wish to be “of service to the people”. What remained unsaid was that there were no other options left to her after her failed love affair and dipping fortunes in the film world.

She now sought to revive her relationship with MGR, who had become chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the second time. They had been estranged for nearly ten years. She realised MGR alone could give her the break she needed. Politics attracted her but she was aware of what politics entailed. The DMK seized on her remark that she had joined politics to “serve the people” to make lewd comments, to the effect that Jayalalithaa had offered her body to serve the people, so the youth of Tamil Nadu should come forward to avail of her offer.

Many in the party had come to believe that she was out of MGR’s life when they parted in 1973.

How did the rapprochement come about, after nearly a decade?

The man who was most shocked was of course RM Veerappan, now a cabinet minister in MGR’s government.

He came to know later that when MGR was on an official visit to the US, Jayalalithaa also happened to be there for treatment for her obesity. A common friend arranged a meeting between the two. One meeting was apparently enough for her to change the leader’s heart.

RMV’s fear was that, as a member of the party, she would not be a mere wallflower. She was ambitious. She would not be content with just parading as the AIADMK’s banner of glamour, or being the party’s “elegant sweetmeat that serves to attract votes like flies” as the Tamil saying goes. She was full of confidence in herself and her capabilities. She said in an interview to a national English weekly, “I am not a person to be taken lightly.”

And she flaunted her closeness to MGR to make people believe that she was his chosen heir. From then on it became RMV’s mission to malign her growing reputation so that his leader was “protected” from being “consumed by the evil”.

Solai, a veteran journalist and for some time political speech writer for Jayalalithaa, recalls that it was MGR who decided to bring her into politics.

He recalls, “Because of his duties as the CM, MGR could not attend public meetings like before. When Jayalalithaa, on her own, renewed her contact with him, it was a godsend to MGR. MGR needed someone to attract the crowds and to counter Karunanidhi, who had gone on a spree of vitriolic attacks on him at his public meetings. MGR decided to make use of her for public meetings. He asked me to train her to speak. She instantly scored. The DMK was startled by the crowds that came for her meetings. She was capable of facing Karunanidhi’s barbs with effective repartees. All the district AIADMK secretaries were ready to build her up. The whole party went behind her. After thalaivar, it will be Amma, they came to believe. Then she was made the party’s propaganda secretary. RMV, SD Somasundaram and a few others in the party started actively working against her. But all the district secretaries and party workers were behind her. All their mischief failed in the end.”

Solai adds, “MGR was fond of her, that was obvious, and people thought it was natural if they had physical intimacy. But they never showed that intimacy in front of people. Both remained dignified.”

Jayalalithaa was clearly confident that she would be able to tackle her detractors in the AIADMK as long as she had the trust of her mentor MGR. She said to a magazine that her relationship with MGR was special. “Our relationship is very peculiar. Although he is so much older than me, every spare moment on the sets, we would spend talking to each other, discussing every subject under the sun. We used to talk about science, philosophy, literature. Both of us are deeply interested in classical music, astrology and astronomy. We have so much in common.”

She went on to say, “He is everything to me. He is my father, mother, mentor, friend, philosopher and guide. He is my anchor. He will never let me down. He never lets down anyone who believes in him.”

Of course, she did not say “he is also my lover”, but the party cadres thought he was and that made her more special and lovable to them. They, who referred to MGR as Annan or elder brother, came to call her Anni – wife of elder brother.

Excerpted with permission from Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen, Vaasanthi, Juggernaut Books.