Decoding the Amma-Chinnamma Factor in Tamil Nadu Polls 2021

On 3 March, Sasikala appealed to Jayalalithaa’s followers to support the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

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In a classic twist in the plot of Tamil Nadu elections this year, on 3 March, late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s closest aide Sasikala announced that she has decided to "step aside" from politics. She appealed to Jayalalithaa's followers to support the All Indian Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or AIADMK.

The move has come as a jolt to her nephew TTV Dhinakaran and a boost to the AIADMK.

Why is Sasikala’s exit important in Tamil politics?

The Quint explains what the Amma-Chinnamma factor is all about.

Even as Tamil Nadu chooses between AIADMK and DMK, one figure who will loom large over this election, the ruling party and the Sasikala faction is Jayalalithaa. This election is also a contest for Jayalalithaa's political legacy between Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) led AIADMK and Sasikala's nephew TTV Dinakaran.

For those unfamiliar with the larger than life image that Jayalalithaa has in Tamil Nadu, she is fondly referred to as Amma, meaning mother.

While Sasikala was very close to Jayalalithaa, and influential, she kept a very low public profile while Amma was alive. When she briefly took over the reins of AIADMK in 2016, after Amma’s death, supporters were quick to name her ‘Chinnamma', meaning mother’s younger sister.

Sasikala has been Jayalalithaa’s closest friend.
Sasikala has been Jayalalithaa’s closest friend.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The Fight for Amma's Legacy

Jayalalithaa died in 2016 creating a political vacuum and a power tussle broke out within the AIADMK overnight.
Jayalalithaa died in 2016 creating a political vacuum and a power tussle broke out within the AIADMK overnight.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Jayalalithaa died in 2016 creating a political vacuum and a power tussle broke out within the AIADMK overnight. Edapaddi Palaniswami who was once a Sasikala loyalist, was quick to desert her. He reconciled with fellow AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam (OPS), seized control of the party and became the chief minister.

Edapaddi Palanswami and O Panneerselvam were once Sasikala loyalists.
Edapaddi Palanswami and O Panneerselvam were once Sasikala loyalists.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran who were ousted from the party founded the Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam or AMMK. Probably one of the only parties formed to hijack another political party.

But In 2017 Chinnamma was convicted in a corruption case, and spent four years in Bangalore's Parapanna central jail. She then returned to Chennai to reclaim Amma's legacy. But now that she has quit politics, it is TTV Dhinakaran who can fight to stake claim.

Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran founded the Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam or AMMK.
Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran founded the Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam or AMMK.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @TTVDhinakaran)

The ‘Amma’ Brand

Jayalalithaa had named several free and heavily subsidised products and services after Amma.
Jayalalithaa had named several free and heavily subsidised products and services after Amma.
(Photo: AIADMK Website)
Jayalalithaa had named several free and heavily subsidised products and services after Amma.
Jayalalithaa had named several free and heavily subsidised products and services after Amma.
(Photo: AIADMK Website)

Grabbing Jayalalithaa’s legacy also means taking control of brand 'Amma’ which has great resonance with Tamil Nadu’s voters. When she was the chief minister, Jayalalithaa had named several free and heavily subsidised products and services after her nickname Amma. These included Amma unavagam, Amma Kudineer Thittam, Amma Laptops, Amma clinics, Amma baby care kits. So far, it is EPS-OPS led AIADMK government that has had a grip on the Amma prefix.

TTV Dhinakaran and Sasikala have claimed that they are the true heirs to the Amma legacy.

Party Scorecards

The first election that Tamil Nadu voted for without the stalwart Jayalalithaa was the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The first election that Tamil Nadu voted for without the stalwart Jayalalithaa was the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The first election that Tamil Nadu voted for without the stalwart Jayalalithaa was the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In that election, the AIADMK and its ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost heavily and the DMK-led alliance won 38 out of 39 seats.

 TTV Dhinakaran made history when he won as an independent candidate in Jayalalithaa’s RK Nagar constituency in 2019.
TTV Dhinakaran made history when he won as an independent candidate in Jayalalithaa’s RK Nagar constituency in 2019.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Meanwhile, TTV Dhinakaran had made history when he won as an independent candidate in Jayalalithaa’s RK Nagar constituency in 2019. But Dhinakaran and Sasikala could not gain much from that victory as the latter got incarcerated shortly after the polls. Since then, many prominent leaders have been leaving AMMK accusing Dhinakaran of highhandedness.

An ABP-C-Voter opinion poll predicted that AIADMK will lose this election and that AMMK could get 7.8 per cent of votes. This had been worrying for AIADMK. Sources suggested that senior leaders and supporters from AMMK could soon be switching camps to AIADMK.

Consequences of Her Exit

One of the key elements in this tussle between AIADMK and AMMK is the caste factor. Edappadi Palaniswami’s caste is Gounder and O Pannerselvam is a Thevar by caste. Both are dominant castes in Tamil Nadu. Sasikala and Dhinakaran too are Thevars. This caste equation was expected to split votes.

This is the first election without stalwarts Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi.
This is the first election without stalwarts Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi.
(Photo: The Quint)

Sources told The Quint that Sasikala retreated with the genuine aim of not splitting the votes of AIADMK voters in this election. However, this could have been done under pressure from the BJP.

Dhinakaran had been running AMMK all alone when Sasikala was in prison. He said that Sasikala’s decision will not prevent him from forming a third front this election. But her decision poses a new challenge to Dhinakaran as the party now lacks the ‘Sasikala factor’ and could lose supporters. This maybe a move by Sasikala to call for unity between AIADMK and AMMK, Dhinakaran suggested.

Will AMMK leaders and supporters leave him and join hands with AIADMK? For now, AIADMK and BJP are pleased with her decision. However, the DMK isn’t, as they were relying on the Sasikala factor to divide votes and give them leverage.

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