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Jayalalithaa - India's powerful and controversial politician

Three-term chief minister of India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, Jayaram Jayalalithaa, is one of India's most powerful and controversial politicians.

DELHI, INDIA: Three-term chief minister of India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, Jayaram Jayalalithaa, is one of India's most powerful and controversial politicians.

Courted over the past decade by political bigwigs, she has become an impressive force at the national level.

The power broker is likely to play an important role in the formation of the next Indian government.

Widely known as Amma or mother to her supporters, 66-year-old J Jayalalithaa is a political giant in Tamil Nadu.

Once a Tamil film actress who had lead roles in nearly 100 movies, she got her political start through former co-star M G Ramchandran's party the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khazagham or AIADMK.

Soon after his death in 1987, the charismatic Ms Jayalalithaa took over the reins of the party and went on to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1991.

Ms Jayalalithaa's political career is much like her films - marked by several highs and lows.

Most of the time, the lows were followed by dramatic comebacks and she was reinstated as chief minister of the southern province.

She is currently serving her third term, and is today one of the few leaders of regional groups whose growing prominence over the past decade has made it impossible for national parties to rule alone in India.

R Rajagopalan, political analyst and chief of Bureau Vaartha, said: "In crisis, she is a tall leader. For example, the elimination of LTTE from Tamil soil is a great achievement of Jayalalithaa. If she goes for a kill, she kills that, she won't retract."

But her rule has been marred by several corruption cases, most of them filed by M Karunanidhi - her long-time political rival and leader of the opposition party.

Ms Jayalalithaa has been charged with possession of assets beyond her known sources of income.

She has also briefly spent time in prison prior to her conviction for corruption in October 2000.

But her conviction was later overturned and she assumed the position of chief minister again.

All these have led to critics painting her as a deeply corrupt figure - one who sees herself as above the law.

N Ram, former editor of The Hindu, said: "Corruption has gotten into the bones of the system. The personal charge that she amassed wealth - let the courts decide at the moment, because the criminal trial is going on and it won't be appropriate to pre-judge it. But there have been allegations...As for strong measures, sometimes intolerance, yes, that's true."

Despite the ongoing corruption cases against her, Ms Jayalalithaa is still going strong and her supporters even believe that their Amma might even become prime minister someday.
 

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