Chennai: Jayalalithaa's benign smile is greeting flood victims when they receive relief materials, whether from the government or from private or voluntary agencies.
Her party functionaries and officials are ensuring that "Amma" will be the face of the humanitarian operations by pasting her stickers on relief material before they reach the beneficiaries.
The chief minister has been seen in public just once during the floods, zipping through her RK Nagar constituency for an hour when the first phase of flooding occurred in late November.
After the December deluge she undertook one aerial survey a few hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived for his survey. She did not address the media on Friday, deputing her ministers and officials instead.
But when it comes to relief operations, Amma's visibility will increase manifold. At government offices, rice from 20kg bags are being repacked into 5kg packs with an Amma sticker on top, so whoever receives a bag will see it as a gift from Jayalalithaa.
Relief materials sent to Chennai by voluntary agencies or individuals from other districts too are being intercepted and pasted with the Amma stickers.
"Six of our trucks with relief materials were stopped by AIADMK cadres at Sriperumbudur. They unloaded them, stuck the stickers and put them back in the truck," complained Coimbatore businessman William Daniel.
The practice had begun in Cuddalore, the first district to suffer badly in the November rain.
Initially, there were complaints that AIADMK cadres had hijacked the supplies and distributed them at colonies of their choice, with Jayalalithaa banners displayed behind them to portray the effort as a ruling party initiative.
After complaints, the administration asked all relief materials to be routed through the district collectors. It was here that officials and party workers resorted to the repackaging and labelling.
When the donors discovered this, many of them protested and some stopped sending the material.
But after the December 1 floods, there was again a spurt in relief materials arriving in Chennai. Ruling party workers, facing flak because of the invisibility of their ministers, MLAs and councillors, saw their chance to make it appear as though a caring government had swung into action.
"They printed thousands of Amma labels in no time," a relief volunteer from an NGO said.
The brazen branding of the relief materials has invited snide remarks on the social media. The AIADMK, which usually shrugs off such complaints, has reacted quickly with a media release promising punishment for party cadres hindering relief or threatening volunteers.
"This is nothing but mischief to discredit the government's good work in flood relief," the release said, listing phone numbers, email accounts and Twitter handles where complaints can be sent.
"Wherever pictures of the chief minister are being used on relief material, it is the official relief that is being distributed," it added.
The party's anxiety to stem the controversy comes at a time its ministers and MLAs have been facing public anger whenever they venture into the field to inspect the damage and monitor relief.
On Friday, at Jayalalithaa's R.K. Nagar constituency in north Chennai, ministers N. Viswanathan and Gokul Indira were asked to get off their cars and chastised by angry constituents, who asked them why the mayor and councilors had been missing all these days.
Viswanathan, the power minister, had no answer when asked why electricity had not been restored three days after the rain.
As the crowd got restive, the police whisked the two ministers away while the former MLA Vetrivel, who had vacated the seat for Jayalalithaa, was punched.
The defence forces and the National Disaster Response Force have earned praise for their rescue efforts, but the flood victims are critical of the poor follow-up by the state authorities.
"They have not managed to distribute even packaged drinking water after four days. Where is the Amma mineral water they had marketed with such fanfare?" asked M. Bhaskar, a resident of West Mambalam.
The Telegraph, Kolkata