Amma’s Canteens spur Raje’s Rasois


Jaipur, Dec 6 : J. Jayalalitha, who death last midnight, has put Tamil Nadu in a mourning state, may have never visited Rajasthan. Yet, one of India’s most influential politician has left an imprint on this desert state through the food highway.

Taking a cue from Amma’s most innovative and populist idea Amma Canteens, Rajasthan governments is all set to start ‘Annapurna Rasois’ in 12 districts of Rajasthan. The scheme would cover the remaining 21 districts in the second phase.
Amma Unnavagam (Amma Restaurant) was started in 2013 with the aim to provide low-cost meals for the public at large and despite doubts about its sustainability, today it has grown to a chain of over 200 outlets across Tamil Nadu’s urban centres and prompted visits by officials from other states, which are keen to replicate the model, including Rajasthan.

The menu at Amma’s is simple: idlis (Re1 each) and pongal for breakfast, three varieties of pre-mixed rice for lunch (the Sambhar Rice and Curd Rice that cost just Rs 3 each are a constant, while the third dish is either a Lemon Rice or a Curry Leaf Rice), and chapattis (Rs3 for two) served with a complimentary dal for dinner.Amma started these canteens to provide good, cheap food to the people. It has also generated employment for thousands of women. The canteens are run by women who cook, clean and serve.

At Raje’s rasois, three time food to be served would include breakfast at Rs 5, lunch and dinner for Rs 8 each. The purpose is to give quality food at affordable rate. The menu, quantity and rate would be displayed on the vans. According to the government, Raje wants to provide home cooked food outside to those who are not in a position to afford it.
A year after the first Amma Canteen started, Amma’s AIADMK swept the 2014 Lok Sabha polls winning 37 out of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu. Whether Amma canteen helped her as a catalyst, is still ambiguous. The free meal concept has been a part of Tamil Nadu’s populist vote-catching culture. In the early 1960s Congress chief minister K Kamaraj introduced a midday meal scheme in Chennai, and eventually spread to the districts.

But the big thrust through free meals was in 1982 with the launch of MG Ramachandran’s now legendary Sathunavu Thitam (nutritious noon meal scheme) that not only served free lunch with an egg in the mix, but images of MGR dining with school children left an indelible impact on the voters of the state. This scheme has been successfully implemented by successive governments in Tamil Nadu, and 12 other states replicated it in the 1990s.

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Raje, meanwhile has two more years to go before she returns to the campaign field. Although the minuscule opposition in the form of Congress is not likely to dent Raje’s popularity in thes state, except some of the controversies including Lalit Modi scandal that scalded her, Raje is not keen on taking any more chances. So inspired by Amma’s canteens, one of her many moves is to take to people’s heart through food.

Raje’s rasois would provide quality food to weaker sections at a highly subsidized rate. Those who work in these Rasois would be given training and would wear uniform like in hospitality industry.
The motto of the scheme is ”Subkeliye Bhojan, Subkeliye Samman” (Food to All and Respect to All). Apart from all the seven divisional headquarters, five more districts, of Pratapgarh, Dungarpur, Banswara, Baran and Jhalawar would be covered under the scheme in the first phase.

According to the proposal 80 mobile vans would be used to distribute food at a place decided by the local self-government agencies in the district. The district wise allocation of vans are Jaipur 25, seven divisional headquarters 5 each, Jhalawar 6, Pratapgarh, Baran 3, Dungarpur and Banswara 4 each.

Amma’s canteens have helped poor and lower middle-class families massively slash their food bills and freed many a women from the daily grind of cooking and cleaning. And their gratitude has often translated into votes for Amma.

But will it do the same for Raje, only time can tell.

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