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Wary Amma bares her hand

Jaya's promise of Rs 10 kg rice free-of-cost to every ration-card holder is a do-or-die gamble, reports GC Shekhar.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 15:34 IST
GC Shekhar

Desperate times merit desperate measures. And J Jayalalithaa, a war horse, knows it only too well.

Her promise of Rs 10 kilo rice free-of-cost to every ration-card holder in Tamil Nadu is a do-or-die gamble.

The AIADMK chief, who had an early edge over the rivals when campaigning began last month, was losing out to wily Karunanidhi.

The DMK chief stole her thunder by announcing "free rice and colour television" even before Amma could think of it. So she had to lob a bigger pot of free rice to stave off the DMK threat.

When Amma hit the trail on March 31, her USP was a glut of welfare schemes and flood relief. And it sold well, giving her a clear lead over the DMK's numerical strength of allies. Till Karunanidhi injected its own brand of chemistry into its arithmetic.

His manifesto read like the Garden of Eden — free colour TVs, rice at Rs 2 per kilo, 2 acres of free land to the landless and waiver of farm loans.

As rivals ran down the schemes as "unfeasible gimmicks", the DMK veteran portrayed himself as a "common man's messiah"— and the only one of its kind. It captured public imagination and became one of the most talkedabout topics in town.

"When voters compared, Karunanidhi won hand's down. His hamper was more tempting," said a senior police officer. So Amma could not be complacent. But even now, her promise of 10 kilos of rice free if another 10 kilos is purchased at Rs 3.50 through the PDS does not cut ice with the voters. But it gives her some measure of comfort.

Only a week ago, she had accused the DMK of "promising the moon." After dismissing the "rice platter" as an election stunt, she herself resorted to something similar to outsmart her rival. Her spin doctors say more freebies are in the queue.

Amma's campaign had lost some of its glamour because of the "repetitive" na ture of speeches and the Tempo Traveller from which she refused to alight and interact with her "subjects".

The rice might change all that. And give her back the edge, she is desperate to cling on to in the run-up to the May 8 polls.