Congress leaders and cadres in Puducherry are unhappy after their Chief Minister V. Narayanaswamy announced that a new scheme for providing free breakfast for school children would be named after DMK leader Karunanidhi.
The Chief Minister while presenting the Union Territory’s budget on Monday had announced that the present scheme of providing free milk for school children would be expanded and cooked breakfast would be provided. He said that the scheme would be named after “Kalaignar Karunanidhi.” DMK leader M.K. Stalin quickly thanked the Chief Minister and said that the CM would find a permanent place in the hearts of DMK workers.
What has irked the Congressmen in the Union Territory is that a breakfast scheme was launched by a Congress government in 2002 by Sonia Gandhi and continues to be operational. Under “The Rajiv Gandhi Breakfast Scheme”, milk and biscuits are provided to 1.20 lakh school children in government and government-aided schools. But the latest scheme will give about 40,000 children the option to have cooked breakfast of South Indian dishes like idli or pongal. If the students choose the new scheme, being implemented in collaboration with the Akshaya Patra Foundation, they will have to opt out of the earlier scheme.
“The old scheme will continue to benefit a majority of the school children to whom cooked breakfast cannot be reached. Also the old scheme employs about 600 women whose services cannot be terminated,” explained V. Lakshmi Narayanan, parliamentary secretary to the Chief Minister. He was the Education Minister when the first scheme was launched in 2002. But Puducherry Congress leaders feel that even the new scheme should have continued under the banner of Rajiv Gandhi’s name instead of being named after Karunanidhi. “Why have two names for a scheme whose beneficiaries are the same?” asked an MLA.
When Akshaya Patra was engaged by the Chennai Corporation in February to provide cooked breakfast at its schools, opposition leaders had criticised the move saying that it would “convert a nutritious meal into a Manu Dharma meal” as the foundation does not include onion and garlic in its preparations. It is ironic that such a scheme has now been named after Karunanidhi, a trenchant critic of Manu Dharma.
Congressmen in Puducherry are peeved that Narayanswamy was bending backwards to please the DMK as his government needs the support of the two MLAs to survive. In the 30-member Puducherry Assembly the Congress has 15 MLAs and is supported from the outside by the DMK’s two MLAs. “Where is the need to name the scheme after Karunanidhi when the Chief Minister has already named a major road in the Puducherry town and another major road in Karaikal (an enclave located in Tamil Nadu) after the DMK leader? He has also created a chair in Karunanidhi’s name in the Pondicherry Central University,” pointed out a senior Congress functionary. Apparently, Narayanaswamy wants to keep the DMK in good humour as he needs the party’s support for next year’s Assembly elections.