Political parties need to ask themselves if they are morally on the right side when they entice voters with ‘welfare schemes’. The electorate needs to ask itself if it has no compunctions in falling for such promises.
Over the years governments in Tamil Nadu have perfected the election sop opera — from laptops to grinders, from mopeds to cycles, from mobile phones to televisions, from gold to goats, the list of freebies promised is long. It has become a calendar event for almost every state government to announce ‘welfare schemes’ just before elections. These ‘schemes’ are usually sops given with an eye on reaping electoral benefits.
So, when the current government headed by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader Edappadi K Palaniswami declared last week that Rs 1,000 would be given to every ration card holder in the state little did it think of hitting a roadblock. On Wednesday, hearing a public interest litigation (PIL), the Madras High Court asked the State to stop the scheme saying it was “nothing but waste of public money for non-productive purpose”.
The government camouflaged the financial incentive as a gift for all the 2.02 crore ration card holders in the state ahead of the harvest festival Pongal. However, the court observed that it could be given only to people living below the poverty line. It took into account the fact that the state has a total debt of Rs 3.5 lakh-crore.
Even in the recently concluded assembly elections to five states freebies were announced. In Rajasthan, then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje promised Rs 1,000 to every poor person to buy a smartphone — it’s another matter that schemes such as these did not help her win the polls. The point is that despite there being strict guidelines by the Election Commission of India (ECI) against bribing/enticing voters, political parties find ways to bypass these rules. Either such schemes are announced before the model code of conduct sets in or it is promised in the election manifesto. The financial viability of implementing these promises are often not discussed.
With the general elections round the corner and the ECI likely to announce the poll dates in 50-60 days, once can expect a rush of ‘welfare schemes’ being announced.
Political parties across the board need to ask themselves if they are morally on the right side when they entice — even bribe — voters with such schemes. The electorate needs to ask itself if it has no compunctions in falling for such promises.
Back in Tamil Nadu, the Rs 1,000 Pongal gift reflects how political parties have taken the voters for granted. If earlier governments put thought behind such enticements to package them as welfare schemes, here there is an element of brazenness (and at one level laziness and lack of thought) in distributing cash through the State machinery.
For every political party that intends to hand out freebies this election season, the Madras High Court’s words should be a warning: “It’s not your party money for us not to raise questions. It is government money.”For more Opinion pieces, click here.