Yesterday, actress-turned politician, six times Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the leader of masses and a national leader of stature J Jayalalithaa was laid to rest draped in her favourite green saree. An epic era came to an end. The uncertainties continue, even though her close associate, tea-vendor turned politician OP Panneerselvam took over as the next CM. No one remained untouched or unimpressed with the power Amma radiated. The first-time ever gesture of the opposition to place billboard in her honour, is just one of the few indications of respect and awe she bargained for.
There are people who saw her populist schemes along with her unforgiving nature as a polarity imposed by being a political leader trapped in a landscape of power.
It is not that she was the first leader where the news of her demise led to near shutdown status in the city and state. However, the calmness against the earlier predicted chaos with the news was a welcome sign, a perfect response from people who she protected and served. Even demonstrations on Babri IMasjid scheduled by various Hindu and Muslim organisations were cancelled.
It will be wrong to propose that the Brand Amma was a result of just the schemes and services with her ever smiling face staring at you from every possible corner. Amma Canteen (Amma Unvagam), Amma People’s Service Centre (Amma Makkal Sevai Maiyyam), Gymnasium, Medicine, Mineral water (Amma Kudineer) , free laptop, Mangal Sutra and other household durables targeted at specific section of the population (Voters) had their influence, but it was always more than that.
The real contribution was the clarity for what she understood. There was no ambiguity in the expectations, behaviour, response or what used to drive her in her work. Moreover, what worked was her clear thinking and bridging of the two gaps that at times places brand in a vulnerable position. She bridged the gap of ‘What she claimed to be’ and ‘how she behaved’, just by sticking to a closely drafted script.
Her bigger victory was bridging the second and more crucial gap. There was not much difference in ‘How she thought she was performing’ and ‘how people thought / perceived she was performing’. What she said talked is what she did. The degrees of uncertainties were restricted in her case.
This uncanny ability to remain true to her guidelines, thought and desire helped her create an ecosystem of expectations and a well-articulated promise of possibilities. She then did not allow anything to come in the way of her delivering on these stated and unstated with a high degree of regularity. Operating in almost a six-sigma trueness to the created persona, trust was a natural outcome for the Brand Amma.
Normally at this stage with high trust and the implied momentum, Brand Amma would have been excused for minor lapse in service and delivery. However, she completely worked in one philosophy of not only ‘why repair once broken’ but coupled it with ‘once broken never repaired’. This was evident in the schemes, plans, and associations. This further strengthened, the trust of her followers in expected service delivery.
Brand Amma may have had flaws. Her semi-dictatorial stance and at time unilateral crushing acts of defiance were not appreciated by many. She at times did leverage this belief but rarely took it for granted. Her checkmating arch rival K Karunanidhi in the 2011 election with a spate of populist announcements is an apt example of it. This weapon of populist freebies was not her creation. She can be credited for re-branding it as ‘Free of cost’ and attaching a personal signature to it. And she ensured that there was no deficiency in the delivery. She created a hugely successful mass brand that was well created serving a large lower and middle class. She promised. You Voted. She delivered.
There are strong linkage and branding. I am sure that they will survive the current and near future short-term political turmoil that is predictable in the state. The long-term impact and a possible dilution will always be a threat. The physical service and deliveries of Brand Amma may stop being significant and relevant in some time, but the BRAND-i; the real BRAND AMMA is perpetual legacy.
A known person with muffler around his neck has been trying to do the same but with hardly any class. And the other prophet of Aache Din should learn that their constituencies are critical evaluating the ever enlarging chasm between promise and delivery.
Maybe it would be a good idea for some of the known business institutes to start teaching students the power of creating BRAND-i. At the end; it is not really your skill or talent that leads to success, but how you are branded in the environment. AMMA maybe just the right case study.