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Profile: Jayaram Jayalalitha

30 March 09 17:07 GMT

Jayaram Jayalalitha is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians.

A former actress, her career has been marked by a series of high and lows.

In most cases the lows have been followed by dramatic political comebacks in which she has been reinstated as Tamil Nadu chief minister.

Head of the regional AIADMK party, she has served as chief minister three times, her last term running from 2002-2006.

She has also been feted over the past 10 years by various Indian prime ministers requiring her political support to remain in power.

In the run up to the 2009 elections she has shown support for a grouping of regional parties and communists seeking to establish a "third front" to challenge India's two main coalitions.

Her admirers say she has played a key role in the development of the state of Tamil Nadu as one of India's most economically influential.

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

'Personality cult'

The allegations made against her over the years have been extensive - from arranging for her opponents to be beaten up to spending large amounts of taxpayers' money for lavish wedding ceremonies.

Some of these allegations have veered towards the outlandish: on one occasion she was accused of losing her temper with her auditor and assaulting him.

Ms Jayalalitha first came to political prominence in the late 1980s, although she was well known as an actress before then, starring in more than 100 films.

Naturally charismatic, she was brought into politics by a former Tamil movie star and state chief minister, MG Ramachandran, with whom she starred in many of her films.

Three years after his death in 1988, she took over his All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khazagham (AIADMK) party as well as the state, and proved equally adept at galvanising the support of the rural poor.

Ever since, her detractors have accused her of creating a personality cult.

Stories about her extravagance are legendary, and many of her worshipping followers are known to profess their loyalty through bizarre acts such as walking on hot coals or drawing her portrait with their blood.

Rivalry

During the various times she has served as Tamil Nadu chief minister, huge cut-outs of her figure have dominated the Madras (also known as Chennai) skyline.

Her ministers have on occasions been reported to prostrate themselves at her feet.

During one raid on her premises following a corruption allegation, police said they had found large quantities of diamond-studded gold jewellery, more than 10,000 saris and 750 pairs of shoes.

Ms Jayalalitha's critics paint her as a deeply corrupt figure who has manipulated the system and sees herself as above the law.

Throughout her political career, she has been in and out of court, either to defend herself against corruption allegations or to assert her right to exercise political power because of these allegations.

Her career has also been characterised by her long running political rivalry with 83-year old M Karunanidhi, leader of the DMK party which won the lion's share of the seats in 2004's Tamil Nadu assembly elections.

The two leaders have succeeded one another in and out of power for much of the past two decades, and commentators say that trend is more than likely to continue.

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