STORY OF A CHENNAI GIRL WHO BECAME A WORLD INFLUENCER
In this era of social media dominance, it is hard to recall imminent personalities who are known throughout the country without a digital footprint. One such person is the benevolent AMMA of Tamil Nadu, the late Selvi J. Jayalalithaa, whose fearlessness made sure she etched her reign in the political hall of fame in India. From a very humble background in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, who lost her father when she was just two years old- she studied in Church Park School and studied law in Stella Maris College, Chennai. Pressured by her mother to enter the cinema industry, she acted her first film when she was just fifteen years old. Jayalalithaa went on to become a very famous South Indian actress who acted in more than 140 films in all the major South Indian languages. She entered politics in 1982 as a member of the Tamil All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party (AIADMK).
During her political career, however, she experienced many setbacks including the division of AIADMK during the demise of her mentor, Dr. MG Ramachandran (Puratchi Thalaivar of Tamil Nadu). It was indeed a dark day for Tamil Nadu, in March 1989, when Jayalalithaa was verbally and physically assaulted in the TN Assembly by the ex-chief of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the late Kalaignar Karunanidhi, and his MLAs.
However, the daring late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu surged past all the setbacks and obstacles she had faced due to her gender, her skin colour and her caste. Not only did she take revenge by deposing Karunanidhi from the incumbency by winning the state elections in 1991, she had inspired and empowered Tamil women in numerous ways.
When in power, one of the first contributions she made was to introduce the ‘Cradle Baby Scheme’. This scheme was focused on eradicating female foeticide and infanticide in Tamil Nadu. The number of female police personnel increased rapidly under her tenure; and her government provided free bicycles for girls from scheduled caste and tribes to ensure their high-school enrolment.
There’s no doubt in calling Jayalalithaa an internationally renowned politician as many prominent world leaders, like Hillary Clinton, have praised Jayalalithaa for her revolutionary policies to safeguard the well-being of the deprived and vulnerable, especially women, and for highly inspiring the Indian diaspora in the United States. Her independent decision-making skills and her absolute command over the once highly patriarchal, AIADMK that despised her has limitlessly inspired each and every woman across the world.
The ‘Iron Lady’ of India never failed to inspire the youth with her innovative policies because of which, Jayalalithaa was lovingly bestowed with the title of ‘AMMA’ by her supporters as she was compassionate about every section of society irrespective of their social tags. Her intriguing Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) policy in the early 2000s lifted Tamil Nadu from acute water shortages that were prevalent for a long time. She promoted literacy and education among the youth by providing free laptops to all students studying in Govt. run schools and colleges. This thoughtful initiative of hers, slashed the impact of CoVID-19 on the education of many school children in Tamil Nadu as they already possessed ‘AMMA’ laptops to attend online classes.
Although there are a few allegations here and there on AIADMK for invoking casteism in their political propaganda, it is totally fair if one claims AMMA was relatively out of this dirty game. She brought in a lot of welfare schemes like AMMA Canteen and AMMA Water which provided cooked meals and bottled water at highly subsidised rates to support those with a meagre income.
Not only did she take care of the day-to-day affairs of these people, Jayalalithaa also introduced AMMA Insurance and AMMA Pharmacy that offered medical and life cover at nominal rates. The AMMA Pharmacy sold all the essential medication at very subsidised rates which significantly helped in decreasing the death rates among the underprivileged.
Although she appeared like a socialist by introducing the above mentioned welfare schemes and policies, she adhered to the capitalistic nature of the state. By increasing the investment in Tamil Nadu through the Global Investors Meet in 2015, she reportedly secured around $250 billion worth of investment for the state. Her main aim was to elevate the per capita income of Tamil Nadu to the level of developed countries.
It is very vital to acknowledge the contribution of a political stalwart like Jayalalithaa and felicitate her on her birth anniversary. Jayalalithaa is forever the ‘AMMA’ for the people of Tamil Nadu and is an inspiration for every woman in India and abroad!
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About the author: Ashish is a first year BAGA student. He loves to deconstruct abstract political theories by finding links with historical and modern-day evidence. He also writes about national and international political events.