Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi today inaugurated "Indira canteens," which will provide food at a subsidised cost to the poor in Karnataka capital, Bengaluru. His party, which rules the state, has borrowed the idea from neighbouring Tamil Nadu ahead of assembly elections due in less than a year.
In a slip of the tongue, the Congress leader revealed where the blueprint came from. "In a matter of a few months, the poor people across most cities in Karnataka will be able to eat in these Amma...er...Indira canteens," said Rahul Gandhi, who also ate a meal of Wangi Bath or rice with brinjal at the canteen in Jayanagar in south Bengaluru.
To begin with, the state government is launching 101 Indira canteens, named after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Mr Gandhi's grandmother. A vegetarian breakfast or tiffin, will cost Rs. 5 at the Indira canteen, while lunch and dinner will cost Rs. 10 each.
"Millions of poor people in Bengaluru go hungry, they can now eat at these Indira canteens. I am happy that it is under the Congress government that the poor people are getting such facilities," Mr Gandhi said, pointing out that "the cleanliness in these canteens is as good as the most expensive five-star restaurants in Bengaluru."
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said in Independence Day speech yesterday that the aim is to make Karnataka hunger-free. "I am happy to announce that we are opening on Wednesday, Indira canteens across Bengaluru to feed every day the people from the labour class and poor migrants to the city," he said.
Tamil Nadu's popular low-cost eateries, the "Amma" canteens, were started by then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in 2013. After its super success, the AIADMK powerhouse, called Amma or mother by millions of her adoring fans and supporters, also launched schemes like subsidised salt, mineral water and cement, all under the brand name Amma. Ms Jayalalithaa won an unprecedented second straight term as Chief Minister in Tamil Nadu last year, but died in December after days in hospital.
Mr Siddaramaiah, who also doubles as Karnataka's finance minister, has set aside Rs. 100 crore in the state budget for this year to run the Indira canteens in Bengaluru.
Elections are due in Karnataka in the first half of 2018. The Congress is battling an aggressive BJP that wants to wrest the state, which it lost to the rival party in the 2013 assembly elections. BJP chief Amit Shah was in Karnataka too over the weekend and has readied a plan to attack the Congress government with allegations of corruption.
Rahul Gandhi after inaugurating the Indira canteen will address a meeting of the party workers later this evening.