Decoding Jayalalitha: Why is Amma So Popular In Tamil Nadu

Salini Madiraju

Puratchi Thalaivi- A word recognized by almost everyone in the country. Google it and you will be surprised to see that it gives results for “Jayalalithaa” without suggesting translation.

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It means a revolutionary leader and indeed she is one. She was an actor-turned-politician of the country and had a towering personality.

Known as “Amma”, she was elected to power five times.

Similar to many other leaders of the world, her journey had milestones that brought her both, bouquets and brickbats.

Lets look at few of her lesser known good and bad deeds that brought her compliments and criticisms.

As Humanity demands, the praises go first:

1. Cradle Baby Scheme: When the country possessed low child sex ratio, Amma came up with this scheme where a woman could anonymously hand over her new-born girl child to welfare officers, who would register the infant with orphanages, hoping that she would be adopted.

2. Financial Help to a Gardener: Amma financially helped a gardener who had quit his studies despite performing excellently in 10th boards. He finished his Computer Science Engineering from a reputed college in Madurai and you won’t believe who’s his employer today. It’s Amazon!  Good job, Amma!

3. Salary of Re.1: Yes, that’s right! In fact, she refused to take any salary. However, as the Government insisted that a public servant needs to draw some salary, she accepted a modest Re.1 salary. If only all our affluent leaders could do that!

4. Proficiency in Tamil and English: She had an excellent command over both languages and this made MGR recommend her at the Rajya Sabha and also as the Party Propaganda Secretary.

5. The fearless Tigress: She was a Tamilian hailing from Karnataka. During the Cauvery war, she supported Tamilians. This enraged hundreds of Kannadigas who tried to attack her. Brave woman, indeed!

Needless to mention are famous “Amma” canteens and free medical check-ups. Her film career was equally spectacular with 120 block busters across 4 languages.

“It takes many good deeds to build good reputation and only one bad deed to lose it”. Let’s see what Amma could have avoided:

1. Biggest Wedding in the History: Amma had celebrated her foster son’s wedding so lavishly that it made its way into the Guinness Book of Records. Over 1,50,000 guests attended this wedding. This extravagant spending attracted negative attention and triggered Amma’s downfall.

2. Bathed in Public as CM: During the Mahamaham festival, Amma took a dip in one of the Ghats. That caused a massive stampede as people ran to see her and nearly 50 people died in that tragic incident.

3. The Controversial Inappropriate Assets Case: Though she was acquitted of all charges, IT raids, controversy around disproportionate assets and Pleasant Stay Hotel Case slowed Amma’s growth trajectory immensely.

There is no denying that Jayalalithaa was a charismatic leader who had numerous loyal followers yet, like any other human, had her own imperfections. The country will never forget her contribution to the Indian Cinema and Politics.


Salini is an MBA student living in Mumbai. She wants to bridge the gap between ‘wanting to write’ and ‘what is written’.


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