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Jayalalitha Jayaram, known only by her first name, was a movie star and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu state in India. She was cast into the political wilderness, but is now back.
At the height of her popularity gave out more beads than most Mardi Gras floats.

She and her assistants handed out 5004 marriage necklaces to happy brides,
as reported by the BBC on 6 February 1996. She also married the 5004 lucky couples, acting "as a non-religious high priestess." In addition, each couple got silk clothes and 10,000 rupees in cash. This was about $US 300, a substantial sum in India, especially when multiplied by 5004.

Who is this woman? She succeeded another actor-politician as governor of the state of Tamil Nadu. And how! Huge billboards of her once adorned the roads and streets of the state. Double-page newspaper ads declared:



a people's Government, wedded to egalitarian principles, marks a glorious entry into its successful 5TH YEAR under the inspiring leadership of the



Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu

Her people got so carried away they produced a poster showing her with crown and scepter holding a crowned "Christ-like child." It was so offensive to the large Christian minority in the state that it was quickly removed.

She did some good things, including setting up police stations staffed only for women to take care of their problems. She is always embroiled in political intrigue, and much of what she did is window-dressing.

But you always knew who was dressing the window. The adoption and welfare rules, stadiums and schools, companies, the state bus line, new villages and the state TV cable channel were all named after her. One of her ministers suggested that both men and women should get Jayalalitha tattoos to show their undying loyalty.

But, getting back to the wedding. She had two big parties in a year. She adopted the son of her close (some believe extremely close) friend and advisor, Ms. Sasikala Natarajan (also known only by her first name), and invited 400,000 people to the ceremony. The wedding party had a mere 100,000 guests, all of which were sure to have been well feasted.

As for beads given to the brides. The BBC reported that they were mangalsutras. However, this would have been most unusual in southern Tamil Nadu. The mangalsutra is the wedding strand of North India In Tamil Nadu the wedding necklace is a tali. Both can be traced back many centuries (see Beads and Love and Marriage).

  • I wrote this early in 1996. Since then, many things have happened to our heroine. In May she was soundly defeated in the election and resigned (in some disgrace) on 10 May 1996. In November she was arrested on a number of charges including getting kickbacks from a $84 million deal to give color TVs to villages.
  • The police searched her house and found 30 kg (66 lbs.) of gold, 500 kg (1100 lbs.) of silver and 5000 silk saris. Jayalalitha was apparently trying to outdo Imelda Marcos. Sasikala had been arrested earlier, but the two prisoners don't see each other, as Sasikala is in hospital. Jayalalitha has repudiated the adoption of Sasikala's son. This is one of India's more interesting running political stories.

  • Another update, 1998. Jayalalitha, the bead hander-outer, is a member of the current ruling coalition in India, under the leadership of the BJP. She has threatened to walk out on her partners several times and has brought the coalition many headaches. They wish they could govern without her support, but they can't. She wasn't in jail long.
  • And yet another. In early 1999 she walked out of the coalition. Sonia Gandhi (the Italian-born widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the grandson and son of Prime Ministers and one himself) and Jayalalitha had a "tea party" (well, they met at one with great media attention) in hopes of forging an alliance. In the next election (September-October 1999) Sonia’s people came in a poor second and Jayalalitha was nearly wiped off the political landscape. Court cases are still pending.
  • Here we go again. In 2001 she was re-elected Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. However, she failed to be elected to the state assembly, which is a requirement to be Chief Minister. Just before the deadline for this election she ordered the arrest of thousands of her opponents, including two ministers of the central government (cabinet members). There were riots in the streets, the central government threatened marital law. She backed down for now. Stay tuned.

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