Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday, August 16, inaugurated cheap Indira canteens in Bengaluru to serve the poor and Karnataka's Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said it was a historic day in the state's "fight against hunger and malnutrition".
The media was busy focusing on Rahul's slip of tongue while inaugurating the canteen system named after her late grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi but did anybody really ask why only the IT capital was chosen for starting the canteens and not the entire state?
For those who love statistics, Bengaluru is the fourth richest city in India while Karnataka has done badly in the list of the developed states.
According to a Livemint report published in November 2014, the poverty rate in Bengaluru district is less than 10 per cent (while it has the maximum population of all 30 districts) while as many as 17 districts, including those in central and northern Karnataka, have a poverty rate of over 20 per cent. The development of the IT industry in districts like Bengaluru and Udupi saw a trickle-down effect having a sound impact on the poverty level while backwardness in agriculture sector coupled with climatic aberrations has left people in severe poverty.
According to another report published in Times of India in September 2013, the monthly per capita expenditure in rural areas is lower in Karnataka than the all-India average.
So what precisely did the state's Congress government achieve by starting Indira canteens to feed the poor of India's one of the richest cities?
For one, publicity. Bengaluru is certainly a place where any action will attract the maximum focus and all the more if it is a populist measure like feeding the poor. Rahul's grandmother had executed a killer strategy in the early 1970s when she gave the call of "Garibi Hatao". Now, the grandson is launching a "Bhukh Hatao" version of the same populism to gain the maximum mileage ahead of next year's Assembly elections.
We do not yet know whether Indira canteens will eventually spread across Karnataka (late Jayalalithaa's Amma Canteen had started across Tamil Nadu) but by inaugurating them only in Bengaluru, the Congress leadership has made it evident that it wants to make use of the media the most instead of really going for a socialist drive to take a crucial lead over the BJP in the run-up to the elections.