The late chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, was revered by the people as "Amma", or mother, but her steely resolve and reputation for being unforgiving earned her several other epithets, especially ones that compared her to men.
GVL Narasimha Rao, the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), allegedly called her the best man in her party, perpetuating a trend that had begun since she joined politics -- men either attacked her viciously for daring to rise against them or lauded her courage for being able to take on a 'man's job'.
Rao's reaction was echoed in social media, with some variations.
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From once being adored by fans for her acting to being pushed off MG Ramachandran's hearse by workers of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), to having men fall at her feet when she took oath as chief minister for the first time in 1991, Jayalalithaa has been at the receiving end of all kinds of male attention.
At the height of her power, Jayalalithaa had her male colleagues paying homage to her, often abjectly in public view. As her biographer Vaasanthi wrote, "it is the men in the party, her ministers, who 'discovered' this aspect of 'divinity' in her and began falling at her feet." Amma's reaction to it was diplomatic. "It is the culture of Tamil Nadu to pay respect to elders thus," she said.
The ministers went even further. "When she was up in the sky in her helicopter, they fell on the ground and prostrated, just as they would in her presence," Vaasanthi writes. "When her convoy sped past carrying her to her office or to the legislative assembly, the roads wore a festive look as if in celebration when a deity's chariot came in a procession on the streets. Party men stood in a line with folded hands, hoping her eyes would catch sight of them."
Like Indira Gandhi, who earned the title of Iron Lady, Jayalalithaa became known as the Iron Butterfly -- another instance of having her power recognised while also keeping her femininity in place.
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