Classical dancer, a popular actress and politician, Jayalalithaa Jayaraman has donned all the hats with utmost elan. Revered as Amma by her loyalists, she became the face of Tamil Nadu politics in the 21st century.
Jayalalithaa was born on February 24, 1948, in Mysore. She began schooling at the Bishop Cotton Girls High School in Bangalore and later attended the Presentation Convent at Church Park, Chennai, when her mother began a career as a Tamil film actress. The family had moved to Chennai after Jayalalithaa’s father died when she was just two.
She starred in 28 films with Tamil Superstar MGR, who would later found the AIADMK.
Jayalalithaa’s last film was Nadhiyai Thedi Vandha Kadal in 1980. In 1982, at the age of 34, she joined the AIADMK and went straight to the top echelons of the party as propaganda secretary, much to chagrin of many seasoned partymen, and was soon nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
MGR died in 1987, in harness as Chief Minister. The next year the AIADMK split with one faction supporting MGR’s wife Janaki and the other supporting Jayalalithaa, who laid claim to her mentor’s political legacy.
Acting wasn’t her only interest, she was a regular columnist, avid reader, orator, short story writer and a novelist too.
In 1991, Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister for the first time. She lost the 1996 Tamil Nadu elections and the DMK government that succeeded her filed the corruption case that she was acquitted in earlier this month.
She won her second term in 2001 and her third in 2011.
Jayalalithaa, who is single, speaks English, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi fluently. MGR is said to have sent her to the Rajya Sabha as she spoke English very well.
An accomplished dancer, Jayalalithaa trained in classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Mohini Attam, Kathak and Manipuri and performed all over India. She also started learning Carnatic music at the age of four and sang several songs in her own films.
Amma was well aware of the needs of the working class and therefore launched many pro-people schemes in the state.
Amma Unavagam (Canteens)
Amma Unavagam or Amma Canteens are a chain of highly subsidized government run restaurants or canteens that allow the common man of Chennai to procure quality food at very cheap prices (about INR 13 for two meals). With pricing as low as INR 1 per idli, INR 5 for a plate of sambar rice and INR 3 for a plate of curd rice, the amma unavagams come as a blessing to the city’s teeming population of laborers and lower income group families.
Amma Marundagam (Pharmacies)
In June 2016, Jayalalithaa launched an initiative called the Amma Marundagam. The AIADMK government rolled out over a hundred pharmacies in Chennai and other districts such as Cuddalore, Erode, Kancheepuram, Madurai, Salem, Sivagangai, and Virudhunagar where medicines are sold at a discount of about 15 percent over market price.
Amma Kaipesi Thittam (Mobile Phone Scheme)
In 1991, Jayalalithaa set up the system of self-help groups (SHG) for women aimed at their social empowerment and economic emancipation. Today there are about 6.08 lakh Women SHG in the state. In 2015, Jayalalithaa launched the Amma Kaipesi Thittam – a scheme under which about 20,000 SHG trainers would be provided “computerised mobile phones” with special Tamil software to help them supervise the SHG workers.
Amma Kudineer Thittam (Mineral Water Scheme)
In September 2013, on the occasion of the 105th birth anniversary of CN Annadurai, Jayalalithaa launched the Amma Kudineer Thittam – a scheme that allows the people of Tamil Nadu to procure purified mineral water at a low price. Amma Mineral Water is sold at about INR 10 a litre.
Amma Cement Scheme
Jayalalithaa launched Amma Cement Scheme in January 2015. Under the scheme people from the lower and middle income group become eligible to procure cement at a highly subsidized rate from government godowns for building houses.
Amma Master Health Check-up
The latest launches of Jayalalitha are a set of three health checkup schemes – Amma Master Health Check- up, Amma Special Master Health Check-up Scheme for Women and Amma Arokia Thittam – for those who cannot afford regular health screening tests. The first is a master health check scheme for all, the second a women health diagnostic scheme and the last is a set of basic health tests that can be undertaken at state government health centres.
Amma’s journey is a long saga of adventure, struggle and success. Whatever one might judge her and her politics, it will be impossible to disassociate Jayalalithaa’s name from the politics of modern India and her name will go down in history.