ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Legacy of Jayalalithaa (1948–2016)

She will be remembered more for her populism than her authoritarian ways.

In an era marked by a pronounced shift away from welfare economics towards market-led, neo-liberal policies that emphasise growth, Jayalalithaa’s record of governance showed the possibility of combining the two. She took over as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in July 1991, around the time the P V Narasimha Rao government initiated policies of economic liberalisation marking a formal shift away from Nehruvian policies and principles. The conditions attached to the structural adjustment programme thrust upon the union government by the Inter­national Monetary Fund did not impact her state government as much as other governments. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), then an ally of the Congress, did not protest against the policy shift. Nor did she join the chorus praising the policy shift. Instead, she persisted with the mid-day meal scheme for schoolchildren and expanded its scope. Her government also expanded the public distribution system, adding more commodities to the list of subsidised items.

In the liberalised economic environment, the state’s industrial sector also expanded. Tamil Nadu was among the states that had seen robust industrial growth during the 1970s when C Subramaniam and R Venkataraman had been the country’s finance ministers. The Green Revolution and the subsequent proliferation of small-scale industries led to vigorous growth in the state after 1991. As a result, Tamil Nadu did not face the dilemma of having to choose between the two economic models. The notion of “reforms with a human face” which was mere rhetoric in many parts of India became possible in Tamil Nadu. This certainly contributed considerably towards ensuring that Jayalalithaa was able to strengthen her political base, even as she refused to blink when critics derided her welfare schemes as populist.

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