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Itís Raining Freebies :ITíS GOVT MONEY, NOT MINE, YAAR!, By Poonam I Kaushish, 10 May, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 10 May 2016

It’s Raining Freebies

IT’S GOVT MONEY, NOT MINE, YAAR!

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

It is a perfect electoral cake rolled out by various Parties to the strains of ‘Vote For Me.’ Iced with luscious lip-smacking freebies galore for one and all. From the aam aadmi to the debt-ridden kisan to the top tax payer. To cream the electorate at the husting.

 

Wherein sound economic sense has been surrendered to political gamesmanship with reckless promises being made by Parties on the assumption that populist promises yield better electoral rewards than reasoned issues and sustainable programmes. Who cares? After all promises are just promises. And Government money is nobody’s money!    

 

Witness how our netagan are raining populist schemes and loan waivers in five poll-bound States, merrily converting political sops into vote percentages.  And social and economic upliftment is weighed on the scales of vote-bank politics. 

 

Leading the pack is none other than Southern belle AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha who woos her voters with 8 grams of gold, free mobiles-laptops 50 per cent subsidy for women to buy scooters, mopeds and 100 units of free power for two months, Rs.40,000 crores in loans for farmers and Rs 18,000 maternity aid and nine months leave from 2016-21 for women.

 

Not far behind is DMK’s Karunanidhi who assures free smart phones, 3G/4G connections, tablets for 16 lakh school students, cheaper milk, loan waivers and complete prohibition. In Assam Congress’s Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi offers a job to one member of each family and give benefits to poor families whose annual income is less than Rs 2.5 lakh. Continuing her Ma-Mati-Manush talk Mamata harps on her development agenda for a “New Bengal.”

 

Undeniably, populism is not a new phenomenon and election 2016 is no different from previous polls. In the last over 50 years this ‘catch-all’ politics has reared its ugly head in various forms. The ball was set rolling by the DMK in Tamil Nadu in 1967 when it guaranteed rice at Rs 1.

 

In Andhra TDP’s Telgu bidda NTR Rama Rao followed suit by promising rice at Rs 2 per kg in 1983 and made it into a symbol of victory. Then came the disastrous “loan melas” of the late eighties followed by the era of gifting colour TVs, fans, sewing machines, saris to voters.

 

Congress’s Indira Gandhi heralded political one-upmanship via slogans:  ‘Garibi Hatao’ in 1971, BJP followed with ‘Mandir’ and VP Singh Mandal. Which made way for economic giveaways, Narasimha Rao’s “roti, kaprah aur makan” and Sonia’s “Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath.” The BJP tweaked this to ‘Bijli Sadak Paani’ which saw it wrest four States.

 

In subsequent years bereft of anything knew to offer the aam aadmi ‘rice politics’ once again took centre-stage. In 2008 Parties promised subsidized rice and grain to the poor for Rs 1 and Rs 3 and emerged victorious. The DMK returned in Tamil Nadu, BJP retained Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, debuted in Karnataka and Congress in Andhra.

 

True, it can be argued they Parties are obliged to be seen as populist in the no-holds-barred free-for-all electoral race, as it would be stupid to wish away political lollipops to entice the electorate. Raising a moot point: Where do they get monies to fund these doles? Obviously, by taxing us, the people.

 

Think. The DMK spent over Rs3,340 crores over five years on 15 million television sets, with each costing an average of Rs2,456. The AIADMK spent Rs 2,000 crore on mixers, grinders and table fans to over 3.5 million beneficiaries in 2013.

 

However, the harsh truth is that political promises in the economic sphere should not cross the prudence limits, where it starts hurting the economy as a whole. Notwithstanding, assurances of cheap rice, wheat or free electricity can be justified on the grounds of acute poverty.

 

Besides, these concessions are imperative in a country where 40 per cent of the people live below the poverty line and over 700 million earn less than Rs 20 a day. Is it not the duty of our jan sevaks to take care of the welfare of its people?

 

However, given the level of dishonesty, populism and irresponsibility which increasingly governs our political system, these exclusive measures announced are an invitation to disaster. None sees the danger of economic derailment as the biggest loser are the poor, weak and under-privileged in whose name many of the freebies are justified.

 

By providing free candies to the voters the masses have become dependent on the politicians with the result that there is no true empowerment. This has resulted in the people not being able to critically evaluate their own leaders.

 

Also, given the economic logic that there is no such thing as a free lunch, a populist scheme is invariably paid for either in the form of higher taxes or increasing inflation. Precisely, what the mint fresh State Governments in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu etc would have to take recourse to.

 

Pertinently, in the Subramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu Government case in May 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines to restrain Parties from promising freebies to voters, so as to maintain a level playing field during elections.

 

“Distribution of freebies shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree,” it underscored Even as it observed nothing under Section 123 of The Representation of the People Act barred Parties from promising voters freebies in their manifestos.

What next? One way is to make it obligatory for Parties to inform the EC where the money will come from to implement the free giveaways and if they will raise taxes, reduce allocation for these programmes once in power.

 

Two, it would be more beneficial for Parties to offer people permanent solutions to their problem in their election manifestos instead of a slew of seemingly advantageous, but temporary stop-gap measures. Three, the EC needs to penalize Parties who use the quick exploitative mechanism to win people’s votes.

 

Clearly, care should be taken to draw a distinction between welfarism and populism. Welfarism takes into account the needs of different sections of society as a part of a large development framework. Populism is purely guided by vote banks. Albeit, granting concessions which have no economic rationale and are not part of the larger economic planning, as enunciated by a Government.

 

Unfortunately, our policy-makers have been unable to perceive the reality of the situation. They have consistently failed to evolve a strategy of development which would take into account our pluralism and fluctuating economic disparities.

 

It is time now for the Parties to realize that liberalization and populism do not go hand in hand. Populism will only provide immediate succour at the expense of the future. It is no remedy for neglect of education and health. Faulty priorities in industrialization and under-investment in rural areas.

 

The aam aadmi is no fool. Each populist slogan only accentuates his growing awareness. The real significance of any electoral battle is that unless the problem of poverty is substantially resolved, violent earthquakes will continue to rock the Indian polity, whereby it could endanger our federalism and pluralism. A Government cannot afford to throw away money on populist whims. The time to draw a ‘lakshman rekha’ on vote bank politics. ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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