If it is positioning that sets up a brand, then the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, may have finally hit the bull’s eye with her Amma babycare kit. The chief grouse of the state’s Opposition against many of the recent schemes of the Jayalalithaa government named after Amma (as Ms Jayalalithaa is popularly known) had been that they were a rather unholy mix of welfare with business. It somehow hurt the state’s politicians — long used to showering freebies at a huge cost to the state exchequer — that the Jayalalithaa government, through its foray into the retail business, should be able to effortlessly promote an essentially political cause with its use of the ‘Amma’ brand without making a major dent in the coffers. Be it the Amma canteens, bottled water or pharmacies, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government was able to address popular needs at nominal costs while popularizing the party leader. The government’s babycare kit scheme takes that mission forward, but this time with a healthier dose of welfare that makes it even more inconvenient for Opposition parties. This is because, just like M.G. Ramachandran’s association with the state’s pioneering mid-day meal scheme, it may become impossible to deny Ms Jayalalithaa’s association with child welfare, and thus make it difficult to write off the Amma brand conveniently from a government venture after a change of regime.
This is not merely because of the association of the word ‘Amma’ — or mother — with the child. It is also because the government scheme reaches a niche that long needed attention — improving the state’s infant mortality rate. Tamil Nadu had reached, and bettered, the millennium target of 28 deaths per 1000 live births by 2015, at least four years back. It could not better its statistics because of the lack of early intervention — most of the deaths occurred within 28 days of birth. The babycare kit includes a hand sanitizer, soap, mosquito net, rattle — all targeted to increase awareness and promote healthy habits among caregivers who often cause harm for reasons as simple as not washing their hands before feeding the child. Given that Tamil Nadu has also been able to institutionalize about 90 per cent of childbirths, the kits, to be given out in all government hospitals, rural or urban, makes sense. It may attract more families to institutional care, and, unfortunately, into the caring embrace of Amma.