Now firmly back in the saddle, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa will launch efforts to strengthen “Brand Amma” with an eye on the 2016 elections to the state assembly.
Observers say Jayalalithaa, who returned to the top post for the fifth time on Saturday, is determined to rewrite electoral history by becoming an incumbent chief minister to return to power in a state where voters have changed the ruling party in every election.
On Sunday, the 67-year-old AIADMK chief is expected to inaugurate 45 ‘Amma Unavagams’ (Amma canteens) that serve heavily subsidised meals. Also on the anvil are a slew of welfare schemes as part of the preparations for next year’s polls.
The Amma canteens were the starting point in activities to build “Brand Amma”. This soon extended to other items, ranging from “Amma water” to “Amma vegetables” to “Amma medicines” to now, “Amma film theatres”.
The idea is to touch the people’s lives in as many ways as possible, said a senior AIADMK functionary.
“Amma’s agenda is very clear – to accelerate governance delivery and speed up growth and development activities so that the image of Tamil Nadu as a progressive state is restored,” said a former minister from the AIADMK.
Jayalalithaa returned as chief minister about a fortnight after the Karnataka high court acquitted her in a 19-year-old corruption case. She had to resign from the post last year after she was convicted of possessing assets that were disproportionate to her known sources of income.
In Tamil Nadu, the electorate has alternately elected one the two Dravidian parties – AIADMK and DMK – to power.
Jayalalithaa swept the 2011 state assembly elections with a thumping majority and was running a smooth administration and a welfare scheme-oriented government, weaving together freebies and basic essentials in “Brand Amma”.
Her conviction and subsequent stint in jail – she spent three weeks in prison before she got bail – earned her sympathy but her party’s government under her loyalist O Panneerselvam suffered major damage. There was a common perception of policy paralysis and governance and growth coming to a grinding halt in her absence.
But a few hours after Jayalalithaa was sworn in on Saturday, AIADMK sources exuded confidence that things would be back to normal in no time at all.
During the past seven months, the perception that the state government was missing in action was strengthened because ministers were more interested in prayers than projects, a top IT firm’s CEO said on condition of anonymity.
Opening more “Amma services” to benefit the people, inaugurating the Chennai Metro, holding a global investors meet and aggressively pursuing industry to rev up its activities in Tamil Nadu are the things that one can expect Jayalalithaa to take up in the short term, the CEO said.
Professor Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University is convinced that with the acquittal giving added political strength to Jayalalithaa, and if the judgement holds in the Supreme Court, the chief minister will become even tougher to beat electorally.
But it will not be easy going as she will have to repair the damage to her government’s image due to the inertia and inaction when Panneerselvam was the chief minister, he said.
“Clearly, her eyes are on the next elections,” said AR Venkatachalapthy, a political analyst and historian with the Madras Institute of Development Studies.
Though Jayalalithaa keeps everyone guessing, Venkatachalapthy said she would opt for early elections to ensure that the opposition, which is in disarray, does not get a chance to regroup.
For the present, the DMK is down in the dumps and it could not even take advantage of Jayalalithaa’s conviction.
“This may be the reason for the DMK’s cautious approach on appealing against her acquittal in the Supreme Court,” said a political science professor from Coimbatore. The DMK would like the Congress to do its job by making the Karnataka government challenge the High Court’s decision, the professor said.