- Freebies have taken a prominent place in India's electoral politics.
- EC had to issue notice to political parties over wooing voters with the promise of freebies
- Regional parties like Samajwadi Party also joined the freebies race this election
Freebies have taken a prominent place in India's electoral politics. Despite knowing the fact that freebies will put additional burden on the exchequer, political parties compete against each other in the runup to elections by announcing a string of freebies to woo the voters.
Such is a situation that the Supreme Court had to issue a notice to the Election Commission of India over political parties wooing voters with the promise of freebies ahead of the upcoming assembly elections in five states -- Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab. The court had observed that the promise of freebies was a 'serious issue'.
It all started down south
Notably, freebies announcements ahead of elections date back to late Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa's era. She started the freebie culture and political parties across the nation adopted this. Jayalalithaa promised free saree, pressure cooker, television, washing machine and more. The 'amma canteen' was a huge success.
Such was the situation that freebies badly affected the states' financial health, prompting the governments to revisit schemes.
Arvind Kejriwal's AAP adopted the 'free' culture
In the north, political parties followed the tradition. It all started from Delhi where Aam Aadmi Party founder Arvind Kejriwal promised free electricity, water, bus travel and more to win in the election in 2015.
The AAP was joined by national parties BJP and Congress as well. The BJP-led Central government is providing Rs 6,000 annually to farmers under the PM-Kisan Yojana. The Congress too promised free electricity, water and more to the people in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
Regional parties like Samajwadi Party also joined the freebies race this election by promising free electricity, water and more. Although the AAP and SP had promised free electricity to the 20 crore people of UP, the two parties couldn't win. These parties didn't take the fact into account that the power distribution companies in UP are also in debt of Rs 90,000 crore. In the rural area, 80 per cent consumers don't pay power bills.
In 2015, the AAP stormed to power by promising free electricity and water in Delhi. The free bus travel only increased the debt of the Delhi Transport Corporation to Rs 1,750 crore. Overall, Delhi's state's exchequer's loss in the two years increased 55 times.
The Centre started a free ration distribution scheme after the Covid-induced lockdown. The scheme was extended multiple times since then and it will end in March 2022. The UP government too has extended the scheme till March this year. The government separately distributed smartphones and tablets to students.
Freebies are not only restricted to UP. Bihar Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh governments too run such schemes.
Seventy five years after India's Independence, the political parties today see freebies as the best lucrative tool available for them to seek public support in elections. Those promising freebies don't pay from the pockets but from the taxpayers pockets.