Tamil Nadu retained something it is intimately familiar with following chief minister Jayalalithaa’s electoral triumph last month. Brand Amma.
The latest manifestation of the AIADMK chief ’s penchant for naming welfare schemes after her popular nickname, Amma or mother in Tamil, are the proposed “Amma Bazaars” — weekly markets that plan to sell products manufactured by government-aided groups and self-help organisations.
The Greater Chennai Corporation announced that it had chosen three areas in the state capital to be transformed into marketplaces — the Mint flyover, Arumbakkam and Kotturpuram. But it also said the launch date of the venture cannot be announced as the scheme involves coordination between 10 departments.
The idea is that there will be no middlemen to siphon off profits from manufacturers. The corporation plans to sell 650 products that are “in use on a daily basis” as well as setting up 200 or so Amma Bazaars, according to media reports.
This is not the first time the 68-year-old AIADMK leader launched freebie schemes with her likeness. Famously, there are Amma canteens, which offer cheap food to the poorer sections of society.
They can wash down a nice meal with a refreshing gulp of Amma drinking water, before returning to their homes built out of Amma concrete. If the food needed more seasoning, add a dash of Amma salt.
These schemes are studded with controversy as well, with analysts and political rivals criticising the Jayalalithaa’s reliance on sops.
DMK party treasurer MK Stalin condemned in May her freebie schemes as being “nothing more than gimmicks which do not focus on development”.
“The only micro-level growth schemes the government should be participating in is the PDS,” said political analyst Gnani Sankaran. “These schemes are purely for political gain, and not for the benefit of the public.”
There is also the question of funding these subsidised schemes, especially with the current state deficit being ` 9,154 crore. Corporation officials were not available for comments on the new scheme.
From laptops, to baby kits, to seeds and even pharmacies, Jayalalithaa’s face adorns a swarm of government handouts that have been established over the past three years as a means of increasing her popularity.
“These schemes work because they target a different section of consumers … those whose purchasing power is limited,” Sankaran said.
In the 2015 budget, finance minister O Panneerselvam announced the AMMA Scheme; the acronym derived from “Assured Maximum service to Marginal people in All villages”. Under this scheme, people can bring their grievances to local officials at a weekly panchayat meeting.
Movie fans too have something to rejoice as the government headed by a former celluloid star plans to implement its plan of Amma Theatres. If the popcorn will be as heavily subsidised as the tickets remains to be seen, though.