Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao
Don’t give them the fish but teach them how to catch fish and help them to improve their skills was the saying and it seems the political class in India are either ignorant of the utility of that saying or more interested to keep the voters in perpetual ignorance to retain their power forever. Or else the manifestos of the political parties in the current phase of elections in the four states and one union territory must have been more intelligent and imaginative aiming at the financial growth of the voters and their families and their enhanced contribution to the economic growth of the nation. What actually happening was the tall claims of reaching 5 trillion economy by 2025 but in practice it is spending half of that economy on freebies. The promises the political parties are currently making have no connection with the labour, work productivity thus making the voters more lazy and unproductive. The increased labour burden in the agricultural sector is now realized as the direct result of these freebies offered by the state governments. The regional parties which started these freebies culture to gain foothold in the states where the national parties especially the Congress party which was fully entrenched at all levels. The sectarian agenda that includes the language, culture pride and regional sentiment of the regional parties helped them to get the attention and freebies were added it took them into power. Having seen the power of freebies enjoyed by the regional parties the national parties followed in their footsteps.
The grand ides of NAYS of Rahul Gandhi on behalf of Congress party before the 2019 elections was a freebie offer of Rs. 72,000 per annum to five crore poor families. That was in addition to other poverty alleviation schemes which Congress party was implementing for several decades during its rule including UPA 1 implemented MGNREGA.
A glance at those manifestos show that the claims of the ideological distinction by parties is not reflected in the drafting of their vision as all of them have commonality in attracting the voters through freebies. 87tyfhere seems to be no end in what these parties, if voted to power, can’t offer free. The freebies are taking care of the people from the ‘maternity ward to the graveyard’. These promises are made fully knowing that freebies are a drag on the economy of the state and many states are victims of nonperformance as their resources are drained for over emphasized social welfare. Surprisingly large number of freebies in the manifestos are not demanded by voters but innovated by parties.
An analysis of 17 manifestos made by EC in 2019 has divided those innovative promises into 6 categories. They were some tangible assets promises such as land, houses to the poor, direct transfer of money, waiver of loans, subsidies on food, offering easy loans etc. Then the suggestion of the EC was ‘the election manifestos shall not contain anything repugnant to the ideas and principles enshrined in the constitution.
Tamil Nadu the mother of freebies continues with its 1967 winning policy of DMK. It all started with K.G. rice for Rs.2 promise and in the over five decade old Dravid party hegemony on the state it was only competitive freebies that gave victory to either DMK or DMK. The ridiculous freebies include the free neem twig to brush the teeth. Such freebies kept the power in the hands of Dravidian parties. The competitive populism is offering free houses, free electricity, house hold items like TVs, cable connection, mixes, and 6 gas cylinders in a year are all free. Laptops and computers were given free earlier now they are given free internet. Education up to high school are free, for girls it is upto post-graduation, are fee less, the books, uniforms, cycles are free and now comes the sanitary napkins as free item.
This is all happening despite the Supreme Court direction to the Election Commission of India to frame guidelines for regulating the content of manifestos and manifestos be also included in the model code of conduct. This direction came after a PIL was filed the lacunae of “freebies not amounting to corrupt practice” under the existing law. That the SC rightly felt that “freebies promised by the political parties in their election manifestos to lure voters shake the roots of free and fair polls. The then judges P. Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi observed “considering that there is no enactment that directly governs the content of the election manifesto, we hereby direct the EC to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with all the recognized political parties”.
The election commission on its part did some homework by seeking the information from the ECs of over 100 countries and found out that very few countries have the framework for vetting the manifestos and major democracies are without such procedure of scrutiny of manifestos. However the EC did studied the manifestos of the parties and found that promises made in these manifestos include items such as land, gold coins, cash, lands and construction of houses. The EC further observed all those doles are aimed at targeting the groups of the electorate such as BPL families, weaker sections of the society, largely women and minorities.
The Congress party which was leading the UPA government then in 2013 objected to the SC intervention into the manifestos as they claimed “making the promises is the birth right of the political parties and none can interfere in their political rights”. Moreover it was pointed out then that the ‘election manifestos are released much before the code of conduct comes in to force’ that suggesting that it may be left to the political parties to be rational in their promises. The SC bench was cautious by saying that as the things stand the poll promises can’t be construed as corrupt practice under section 123 of RP Act.
In 2013 BJP which welcomed the SC initiative came to power in next year elections but not initiated anything to put an end to the freebie culture. On the other hand it joined other parties in offering freebies as we can see in their manifestos for Bengal and Assam.
Whatever may be the political parties behavior it is clear that election promises of freebies without any connection with labour, work or productivity are certainly a drag on the nation’s economy. Those who are receiving the freebies with a glee should realize that funds are not coming from the coffers of political parties but it is taxpayer’s money that includes them too.
(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at email@example.com)