Chennai, Sept. 21: Quiz for seasoned bureaucrats and other fine-print fanatics: can you feel maternal warmth in the phrase “assured maximum service to marginal people in all villages”?
OK, try again after a typographical tweak: Assured Maximum service to Marginal people in All villages.
If you string together all the capital letters in the tongue-twister, who can miss “AMMA” and the maternal affection?
Yes, Tamil Nadu actually has such a scheme. As part of the scheme, revenue officials camp in villages on a particular day and try to redress, on the spot, grievances relating to old-age pension, patta transfers, ration cards, birth and death certificates and community certificates.
Yes, someone actually took the trouble of thinking up such a name. Some sources attributed the “acronymated” acrobatics to revenue minister N. Venkatachalam.
Yes, as with every government decision, this one too packs unassailable justifications for the name.
One, the scheme was the brainchild of the most famous Amma of all in India, chief minister Jayalalithaa. Two, the word “Amma” serves a reminder that apparently enthuses the officials enough to implement the AMMA scheme with diligence and alacrity.
But you don’t need to be as hawk-eyed as an IAS official or a crossword specialist to spot the brimming benevolence of Brand Amma in Tamil Nadu.
The creative juices are flowing so thick and fast that the latest welfare initiative has been served up, perhaps aptly, in a bottle.
The chief minister herself launched the brand of packaged drinking water this week. No prizes for guessing the brand name: “Amma Kudineer” (Amma Drinking Water).
Each one-litre bottle is being sold at Rs 10 in government buses and bus terminuses across the state, and is cheaper than those offered by the railways at Rs 15 and by some private players at Rs 20. Plans are on the table to sell 20-litre water cans under the same brand name for homes.
The packaged drinking water is the third “hand-to-mouth” service to use the Amma brand after affordable canteens in 10 cities and cheap vegetable stores in Chennai.
“Whether it is food or drinking water, people will remember Amma first,” quipped an AIADMK minister as Jayalalithaa launched the packaged water scheme by buying a bottle of Amma Kudineer, paying Rs 10 to transport minister Senthil Balaji whose department distributes the product.
Neither is Jayalalithaa the first nor will she be the last to name people-friendly projects after political leaders. Schemes covering all milestones of life --- from birth to death -- carry the Nehru-Gandhi family prefix in the country.
But Brand Amma is unique in the sense that it does not use Jayalalithaa’s name but seeks to leverage the emotional connect the word “Amma” (“mother” in Tamil as in many other languages) makes with many people.
“When the smiling visage of Jayalalithaa, along with ‘Amma’ in bold letters, gets identified with meals, vegetables and water, it generates a sense of warm security since, at home, you always associate these things with your mother,” said public relations consultant Vijay Chacko.
The attendant chance to proclaim loyalty also helps trigger the creative reflexes. Minister Venkatachalam is thought to have earned brownie points through the AMMA revenue scheme brainwave, following which Chennai mayor Saidai Duraiswamy named the corporation’s low-cost canteens as “Amma Unavagam”.
Such symbols have counted in Tamil Nadu earlier too, when M.G. Ramachandran or MGR blazed a political trail virtually leaping down from the big screen.
MGR, Jayalalithaa’s political mentor, used to appear in movies wearing black and red clothes matching the DMK colours during his days in that party, and later added a white stripe between the two colours when he launched the AIADMK in 1972.
The idea may have a precedent in MGR’s on-screen persona but Brand Amma is the result of Jayalalithaa’s own transformation as she fought daunting odds after MGR’s death and emerged as a force to reckon with.
The play on Brand Amma traces its roots to Jayalalithaa’s famous wish in 2001 on her return to power for her second term: “I would like to be a mother to all Tamils.”
Jayalalithaa, who till then was called Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader) by her party cadres, quickly became Amma thereafter.
Government sources said the schemes were not gimmicks but offered qualitative alternatives, echoing the marketing maxim that a brand is only as good as a product.
“The fact that these eateries run out of food and the bottled water has been a sell-out is actually a good sign,” said a quality control official.
Jayalalithaa’s opponents, however, describe the Amma campaign as an ill-concealed attempt to garner votes and point a finger at the water bottle.
“Just take a closer look at the bottle in which they are selling the water. The label has two leaves (the AIADMK symbol) printed in the background and two leaves are also etched on the plastic container. They are using government money to promote their party,” said DMK member of Parliament T.K. Elangovan.
Can a dad be far behind in the Amma of all brand battles? To counter the Amma effect, the DMK had briefly attempted to call Karunanidhi “Appa” (father) in its posters in 2002 but gave up very soon as it sounded a bit incongruous.
“No one would readily call another man ‘Appa’ with the same ease as he would call another woman ‘Amma’, even if she is not his mother. There is a greater spontaneity about ‘Amma’,” said Tamil writer A. Gnanasmabanthan.
During its last tenure, the DMK tried marketing Karunanidhi by naming many welfare schemes after him but the move failed to yield results because of the overall unpopularity of Karunanidhi’s extended family.
Now the DMK has to look for an effective moniker to market Karunanidhi. “Thaatha” (grandpa) is reserved for retirees, “Aiyya” (Sir) refers to social reformer Periyar, and “Kalaignar” (litterateur) ---- the present honorific for the DMK patriarch --- has been overused.
Maybe it’s time to come up with a suitable title for Karunanidhi’s son and heir apparent M.K. Stalin (a name that was chosen by the original Stalin, born Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jughashvili, because it means “steel” in Russian).
The Southern Stalin is now addressed as “Thalapathy” (the general), which looks out of place in a democracy and comes nowhere near “Amma” in evoking a caring and inclusive touch.
If project-namers in Bengal are feeling left behind, they can make a start by rephrasing the doomed “do-it-now” slogan of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “Do It Didi Immediately”.