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A Year Later, 7 Reasons Why Amma Remains An Icon In Tamil Nadu

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By Sourodipto Sanyal:

Jayalalithaa, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu passed away close to midnight on December 5. She had suffered a cardiac arrest on the evening of December 4. Amma was being treated in the Apollo hospital since September 22. What made this news even more shocking was that only hours before her cardiac arrest, the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) had announced that she was ‘soon’ going to come home as an AIIMS expert team had confirmed that she had fully recovered. Life has come to an uncomfortable standstill for millions of her supporters, who see light only in her.

For millions in Tamil Nadu who refer to their Chief Minister affectionately as Amma, she is more of a goddess than a politician. Such is their reverence for her, that when she was convicted by a Special Court in a disproportionate assets case in 2014, at least 16 people were believed to have committed suicide. She was later acquitted by the Karnataka High Court. Yet, the love of her supporters isn’t reserved only when her health is critical or when she has been convicted on charges of corruption. She’s present everywhere. There are images of people getting married who have Amma’s photos on their headbands. Women wear gold earrings with Amma’s photos on it.

At a time when many people in Tamil Nadu are unable to carry on with their lives, we bring you seven reasons which probably had a role to play in her being such a huge name in the state.

1. Amma Unavagam (Mother Canteen)

One of the great successes in postcolonial India is the scheme of Amma Unavagam (Mother Canteen). It is a chain of canteens where food is provided at a highly subsidised rate. It is a hit amongst the people of Tamil Nadu. The beauty of it lies in the fact that it is not only people from the poorer sections of Tamil society who go to have food in the Amma canteens. It’s popular amongst people from affluent backgrounds as well. The scheme started in 2013. Currently, it has over 200 such canteens across Tamil Nadu. Curd rice and sambhar rice are always available and cost just ₹3. Two chapattis with dal also cost the same amount. Amma and her party’s success in both the general and state elections seem to suggest that people are happy with such welfare policies in a neo-liberal setup.

2. Banning Of Alcohol In Phases

After being re-elected as Chief Minister in the 2016 state elections, she decided to close 500 liquor shops across the country. Before the elections, she had promised to ban alcohol in the state in phases. Time will tell if the Tamilians who love alcohol will be robbed off their drinks or if it was one of those promises before the elections, which was never meant to be taken seriously.

3. The Encounter Of Veerappan

The encounter of Veerappan, the notorious smuggler and bandit was under the reign of Jayalalithaa in 2004. It was a huge achievement. Thousand crores had been spent on the manhunt and 130 police personnel lost their lives. It was such an important event that even the national media could no longer think of an excuse to not cover a state from South India.

4. Cradle Baby Scheme In 1992

The Cradle Baby Scheme, launched by the Jayalalithaa government in 1992 was started to bring an end to infanticide of girl children. Cradle baby centres were initially constructed in the Salem district and it has now spread to other districts such as Dharmadari, Madurai, Namakkal, etc. The centres are equipped with life saving drugs, bed sheets and gas connections, amongst other things. There are facts to back Jayalalithaa’s claims that it created a positive impact in Tamil Nadu. The child sex ratio in Tamil Nadu was 1000 : 942, as per the 2001 census. According to the census of 2011, it jumped to 1000: 946.

5. Rain Water Harvesting Scheme

In a country where water from tankers leak on the main roads and taking three showers a day is described as a need by many, Tamil Nadu is one state which has given due importance to rain water harvesting. The Rain Water Harvesting Scheme was started by Jayalalithaa’s government in 2001. The government made harvesting mandatory for all residential and government buildings. Water tables in many neighbourhoods in Chennai have risen as a result. The scheme was initiated 15 years ago. Today, the people of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are ready to take law into their own hands as the earth can’t afford to share water anymore with everyone. Such vision of Jayalalithaa must be appreciated.

6. Offering Freebies

She is famous for providing a lot of freebies to the voters right before the elections. It continued even in the 2016 state elections despite the debt of the state reportedly having gone up by 80 percent over the past five years. In the 2016 state elections, AIADMK promised employment to one member of each family. Students from class 11 and 12 were offered free laptops with internet and every household was promised 100 free units of electricity. She had offered freebies in the 2006 and 2011 elections as well.

7. Amma Salt

The most iconic freedom movement in British India, the Dandi March, began with the production of salt. The necessity of salt in everything we eat and the cheap price at which it can be obtained makes it the friend of people from all classes. How could there not be an Amma salt being sold in the state? Manufactured by the Tamil Nadu Salt Corporation, it is cheaper than the salt sold by private companies. Sodium salt costs only ₹21 while other companies sell it for not less than ₹25.

These are just some of the reasons why Tamil Nadu is always on the edge of the seat whenever Amma is in the news.


Image Source: India Today Group/ Getty Images

This story has been updated on December 6, 2016 following the news of Jayalalithaa’s death.

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