Jayalalithaa: How Ammu became Amma of Tamil Nadu

It is not unusual for politicians and leaders in India to get a sobriquet. From Mahatma Gandhi and Pt Nehru to Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Jayalalithaa, all got a name different from their official names.

In present times, Mayawati is called Behenji while Mamata is Didi for her supporters – both meaning sister. It is only Jayalalithaa, who is called Amma- the mother.


In her biography, Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen, noted journalist and writer Vaasanthi says that she was nicknamed Ammu as a child.

Jayalalithaa was only two, when her father died. To sustain the family, her mother started working in films forcing Jayalalithaa to spend her childhood in Bangalore with grandparents.

As she continued her studies in Bangalore while her mother stayed in Chennai for her work, Jayalalithaa craved to be with her own amma.

Being a bright student, who got medals, Jayalalithaa wanted to be a lawyer. But, while still in her teens, she was forced to take up career in films, first Kannada and then Tamil. From films, she came to politics for which she was groomed by MG Ramachandran.


It was in 1989, when during a ruckus in Tamil Nadu assembly a scuffle took place between DMK and AIADMK supporters. Karunanidhi was the chief minister while Jayalalithaa was in the opposition.

An AIADMK leader snatched budget papers from Karunanidhi’s hands, tore them and pushed the then CM, who fell on the ground.

To avenge humiliation of Karunanidhi, a DMK supporter pulled Jayalalithaa’s saree while she was leaving the state assembly. She fell on the ground and vowed that she would not return to the assembly until it is safe for women.

This time around she was called ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’, meaning the rebel leader for her aggressive brand of politics.

In 1991, Jayalalithaa was sworn in as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. It is around this time that her journey from ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ to ‘Amma’ really began.

At this point of time, Tamil Nadu was facing the major problem of female foeticide and infanticide.

To root out female foeticide and infanticide, Jayalalithaa launched ‘Thottil Kuzhandhai’ or ‘The Cradle Baby Scheme’ in 1992.

The Cradle Baby Scheme was a brainchild of Jayalalithaa. This proved to be highly successful initiative, which was appreciated worldwide.

Thousands of girls were saved from the clutches of dead and adopted across Tamil Nadu.

The Cradle Baby Scheme established an emotional connect between Jayalalithaa and the people of Tamil Nadu. She was now Amma for her supporters and the people of state.


After 2011, Jayalalithaa started to build Brand Amma. Jayalalithaa launched a series of pro-poor schemes giving a message that she was there in the chief minister’s office for the welfare of people like a mother.

Brands like Amma Canteens, Amma Salt, Amma Pharmacy, Amma Cement, Amma drinking water were launched.

Latest in the series was announced in September – Amma Marriage Halls, which would be air-conditioned marriage halls for people from economically weaker sections.

Opposition, though, played all down calling them political gimmicks.

Notwithstanding Jayalalithaa established herself as Amma in Tamil Nadu through her persona and deeds as the chief minister.