Rahul introduces Indira Canteens: With 2018 in mind, Congress serves idli and bisi bele bhaath in waterlogged Bengaluru

Taking an idli and vada out of neighbour Amma's plate, the Congress is looking to patent it in the Grandma's name. 101 Indira canteens were unveiled in Bengaluru on Wednesday by Rahul Gandhi while another 97 will flash their menu cards on Gandhi Jayanti. That will make it one canteen each in every one of the city's 198 municipal wards.

Congress vice-president at the inauguration of Indira Canteen in Bengaluru. Twitter/@OfficeOfRG

Congress vice-president at the inauguration of Indira Canteen in Bengaluru. Twitter/@OfficeOfRG

Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah is quite clear the route to a vote is through the voter's stomach. And Bengaluru, he knows, is where he will fight his toughest battle. In the last four years of his rule, his administration has come out smelling of stinking lake froth in Bengaluru. The Karnataka chief minister knows that the controversies like the aborted steel flyover, problems like water scarcity and foaming lakes and concerns over women safety could set the party back in India's Silicon Valley, especially among the middle class and upper middle class electorate. The Indira Canteens are a way to woo the lower middle class, especially the huge urban migrant population from other drought-hit districts of Karnataka and engaged to a large extent in the construction sector.

Of course, no one is mentioning elections which are less than a year away. The Congress is adding the tadka of demonetisation to the decision to open these canteens, claiming the urban poor in Bengaluru post November have less cash in their pocket. So, breakfast for Rs 5 and lunch and dinner for Rs 10 is what the Congress is hoping will ensure a second consecutive innings at Vidhana Soudha. One idli, one vote, the calculation is, would see the Congress home in Bengaluru. Or one plate of bisi bele bath, if you please.

If the success story of AIADMK in Tamil Nadu (if the 2014 and 2016 elections is anything to go by), the Indira canteens are a terrific idea. By naming them after Indira Gandhi and constructing them at high visibility points across the city, the Congress is trying to connect the concept with her slogan of garibi hatao, positioning the party as a party for the poor. Though at a practical level, these are mere palliatives being dished out, trying to indulge in "retail politics" as brand consultant and Bengalurean Harish Bijoor puts it.

In fact, since Wednesday morning, the government of Karnataka has been tweeting the menu card for the entire week at these canteens, with the hashtag #hungerfreeBengaluru.

That should be good reason to cheer Rahul Gandhi except that the timing has gone awry. Heavy rains in the last 48 hours have meant a significant part of the city is under water, converting Bengaluru into a civic mess. Areas like Koramangala, Jayanagar, BTM Layout, Shantinagar, Bannerghetta Road have been badly affected. Incidentally, it is the Indira canteen at Jayanagar that was inaugurated by Rahul today.

The Congress, which is in power both in the state and the city, has come under flak for its inability to prevent Bengaluru from getting flooded every time it rains. Last year, after the rains, demolitions were carried out to clear out the rajakaluve (storm water drains) over which constructions had taken place in violation of municipal laws. But this week's downpour has shown the concrete jungle that Bengaluru has become over the years, is unable to cope with nature's bounty.

What's worse is that some of the Indira canteens have come up on lake beds or on playgrounds, cutting trees, proving that the government's concern for the city's environment is mere lip service.

The city of lakes that has killed most of its water bodies, by encroachment or pollution, gets converted into a swollen water body every time the heavens open up. Most of the low-lying areas in Bengaluru, especially in south and south west Bengaluru are in a mess at this point in time. It was the government's luck that Monday and Tuesday were holidays on account of Janmashtami and Independence Day, ensuring the city was not stuck on the water-logged roads.

To defend itself, the government will take another leaf out of Amma's book. That just like Chennai in December 2015, the rainfall on the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday — 128.7 mm — was the highest rainfall in a day in Bengaluru since 1890, according to the Met department. Though boats were pressed into action in waterlogged areas, the fact that the political leadership is seen as being more busy preparing to welcome Rahul Gandhi, is seen as poor messaging, more so in an election year.

The flippant nature is underlined when the municipal body organises a competition, 'Selfie with Indira Canteen', offering a first prize of Rs one lakh for the best selfie and a catchy tagline. That itself gives an opening to the opposition BJP, which taunts the Congress asking if the fare on offer will be named Rajiv idli and Indira sambar.

Updated Date: Aug 16, 2017 13:53 PM

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