Which Way Will Amma Sway?: A Glimpse Into Jayalalitha’s Populist Politics In Tamil Nadu

Posted on October 7, 2013 in Politics

By Venkatesan Parthasarathy:

Down south in Tamil Nadu, the word ‘Amma’ means mother, but there exists another annotation referring to a particular lady. A lady who, literally, has the entire rank and file of her party at her feet! Jayalalitha Jayaraman is not your normal female politician. As the reigning chief minister and the undisputed supremo of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (AIADMK), she is as much respected by neutral observers as she is abhorred by opponents in the state.


Today Tamil Nadu consumes everything in her name. That the Amma canteens, a chain of low cost restaurants for lower and middle class population, have gone down well with the masses would be an understatement. It has given her enough political mileage and she knows it. If that’s not enough, Amma neer (water) was launched recently providing packaged water at 10 rupees per litre. For the man on the street, it doesn’t only satisfy his hunger and quench his thirst, but also guarantees her party the support of masses.

The two aforesaid schemes are just two of many ‘people welfare’ centric projects she has conceptualized since assuming power in 2011. It is perhaps ironic that the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government was castigated for its unabashed poll soaps. On the contrary, it is Jayalalitha who has set a new benchmark in terms of populist regimes.

Having said that, it is almost incontrovertible that her party has seized initiative from the DMK and is indeed well on course to reap success at the upcoming Loksabha elections. Being the incumbent party at power and widely tipped to win maximum seats in the 2014 elections, it is only natural that the AIADMK becomes the coveted party for national parties scouring for regional allies.

In the 2009 elections, Jayalalitha took a gamble by joining the much hyped United National Progressive Alliance which ultimately proved futile. This time however, she is expected to play fairly simple and clear. She would want to have a presence in the next central government and, how much ever I wish to speculate on any third front chance, she hopes not to repeat her past mistake.

She likes to be reached out to and the one party which has made slight yet open overtures in recent times is the Bharatiya Janata Party. Indeed, it is well known that she shares close camaraderie with a certain Narendra Modi. Now that he’s the Prime ministerial candidate of the saffron party, Jayalaitha can expect Modi to come calling shortly. While any talk of a Congress- AIADMK tie up shouldn’t be ruled out so early, it will be very much surprising considering Modi’s loathe for losing a sure shot winner.

Fondly revered as Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary leader) by her party workers, Jayalalitha is seldom known to make appearance in national television, rather letting her diktats do the talking. It is indeed difficult to get inside her mind and as much as she eludes the media hawks, she knows that they will be reading and analyzing her every possible move. So, be prepared to read and watch more of her in the coming months.