Amma canteen: Inexpensive meals that ‘buy’ votes…

Amma canteenThe Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s “amma canteens”, which serve cheap meals to hundreds of thousands of people daily, have become immensely popular with the poor and the middle classes. Diners buy coupons which are then exchanged for plates of rice. The canteens were first started in 2013 in Chennai by Ms Jayalalithaa, who is popularly called amma (mother) – hence the name amma canteen. There are more than 300 such eateries in the state – at least half of them in Chennai alone. They serve simple breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week. The scheme has served Ms Jayalalithaa well too. The canteens have helped poor and lower middle-class families massively slash their food bills and freed the womenfolk from the daily drudgery of cooking and cleaning. And their gratitude has often translated into votes for Amma. A year after the scheme was launched, Ms Jayalalithaa’s party won 37 of the 39 seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections. In April, her party was re-elected in the state assembly polls and analysts say the canteens are among the reasons for her victory.