Sarees in 500 designs were chosen by senior bureaucrats for the Bathukamma festival, a nine-day event coinciding with Dussehra, in which women dance around flower arrangements. The sarees are a festival gift for the poorest, says the government. "The women of Telangana will wear the sarees and dance Bathukamma,'' said minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav. At short notice, almost half the sarees were sourced from Surat in Gujarat and only half from the powerlooms of Telangana.
But the plan, perhaps inspired by J Jayalalithaa's "Amma" sarees in Tamil Nadu, didn't quite play to the script.
As leaders of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) started distributing the sarees this morning, trouble erupted in some areas. At an event in Hyderabad's Saidabad, women waiting in a long queue were seen pummeling each other and pulling at each other's hair. Policewomen were seen pushing them to break up the fights.
On social media, groups of women were seen burning the sarees, alleging that they were of poor quality and far from the promised handloom. Videos were circulated of women dancing around a bonfire to songs mocking Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao or KCR.
"Instead of getting a good name, KCR is losing our respect by giving such sarees. Will his daughter Kavitha dance Bathukamma wearing such a saree? Instead of this show of generosity, they should give us our ration on time and ensure quality,'' said Mysamma.
The government accused the opposition Congress of a role in the controversy.
Twenty months before elections in the state, the exercise has been viewed by the ruling party's critics as a calculated outreach - and not a cheap one. For over one crore free sarees, the taxpayer pays Rs 222 crore.
The state government promises that the sarees are for every woman above 18, not just those celebrating the Hindu festival.
There were some early birds like Fathima who said she was happy to get her saree even though she does not celebrate Bathukamma. "Hamari behnen manate hain Bathukamma (our sisters celebrate it). We will also enjoy with them," she said.
Minister Srinivas Yadav vehemently denied the festival gift was politically motivated. "Don't we give new clothes during Ramzan and Christmas as well? We are not looking at votes while distributing sarees," he said.