Daijiworld Media Network
May 16, 2016 : Promising freebies during elections is deeply ingrained in Indian elections. But the Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu have given a different dimension to this tradition of election-time freebies. Keeping this tradition intact the people of Tamil Nadu who are now facing the summer heat and the election campaign heat, got a temporary ‘relief’ in the form of showers of freebie promises. Courtesy - ‘Amma’ Jayalalitha’s magnanimity to reward them with goodies, if she is voted back to power in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections 2016. The ruling AIADMK’s indomitable leader released her party’s election manifesto only on May 5th, with just 10 days to go for the polls. This uncanny politician waited for other political parties to come out with their manifesto and beat them with a master stroke. As expected she has gone a step further to include more freebies to the voters taking a cue from her political foes. She has offered voters a surfeit of goods that are even beyond the wildest expectations of the aam aadmi.
Even as the people of Tamil Nadu are amazed by these freebies coming on a platter they must be imploring the almighty to ensure that elections are held at least once in two years so that they don’t need to work hard at all to fulfil their dreams. Freebie list offered by Jayalalitha include free power, free mobiles, wifi, subsidised scooters, interest free loans, fans, mixies and wet grinders, free land to build houses, scholarships, uniforms, gold and marriage expenses and the list goes on. Jayalalitha has also promised to introduce prohibition in the state and people are really rejoicing because these freebies are like a dream for the have- nots. Come elections and political parties have been liberally doing out freebies in an attempt to draw voters and this trend has become exceedingly ostentatious in the last one decade. Have a look at the long list of the freebies on offer and it can be clearly said that there is no need for people to work hard at all because they will get everything free of cost.
The other major contenders in Tamilandu namely the DMK-Congress alliance, DMDK Chief Vijayakanth and the BJP too are making some bizarre promises to lure the voters. Vijayakanth has promised lowering petrol and diesel rates and he has plans to send 5000 farmers abroad for training in farming. Sounds bizarre or interesting? Cow protection has been a major national electoral promise of the BJP and it has also been seeking a nationwide ban on cow slaughter. But when it comes to politics the party it has no qualms in torturing bulls by promising to bring back Jallikattu, the controversial bull taming/running sport. It also promises giving 8 gms of gold to eligible women below poverty line for marriage. DMK-Congress combined promises moon to the people of Tamil Nadu that includes wavering of educational loans, providing tablets and laptops with 3G/4G, smart phones for poor families and much more. Only the PMK has refrained from offering freebies and has come up with some welfare measures like free bus trips to commuters and free facilities to farmers. With an eye on women voters of the state, introducing prohibition has become a major political promise of all major political parties in the fray. Needless to say that in an attempt to offer free gifts all these parties have done a homework thoroughly leaving no stone unturned in an attempt to please and inveigle the voters.
Though offering outlandish freebies to lure voters during elections in India has become quite common, Tamil Nadu beats all other states hands down to be the champion of champions. Offering cash, liquor, saree and lavish lunch and dinners still remains the clandestine ‘ground realities’ for wooing voters. But Promises of freebies has become a standard open practice in Tamil Nadu since 2006, giving it the title of the ‘freebee state’ of India. It started in 2006 when M Kanunanidhi came up with a populist manifesto promising rice at Rs. 2 per kg and also free television sets. There has been no looking back since then as both DMK and AIDMK, the major political forces in the state have been generously doling out freebies in a game of one-upmanship. In the last one decade about Rs. 15,000 crores worth of freebies have been spent by both these political parties.
A thin line
Ours is the largest democracy in the world and elections are supposed to give the people a free hand to choose their representatives. Freedom of speech and expression are the basic tenets of democracy therefore these promises cannot be outrightly termed as going against the democratic principles in the true sense of the term. At the same time it cannot be denied that offering such goodies is equivalent to buying people by luring them with promise of free goodies and therefore amounts to corruption. Freebies will undoubtedly influence voters and makes a mockery of the very foundation of democracy as free and elections are its very roots. As such, a sizeable section of the people is of the opinion that there should be guidelines to bring election manifestos of political parties under the purview of Model Code of Conduct. In 2013 the Supreme Court had pointed out that freebies spoil the appetite for elections and had directed the EC to frame guidelines to bring manifestos under the Model Code of Conduct. However, it fell short of labelling it as a corrupt practice. Of course it is not easy to clearly demarcate what is a freebie and what is a realistic poll promise in an election manifesto.
Experts in Tamil Nadu have cautioned that freebies will cost the state exchequer heavily as it is already facing a state revenue deficit of a whopping Rs. 9000 crores. Therefore the onus is also on the voters who should reject such freebies and exercise their franchise without getting influenced by such offers. It is high time people realise that the burden of offering freebies is ultimately borne by the people themselves, simply because hardly one per cent of the population in our country pay income tax. In our failure to mobilize direct taxes the coffers are filled by mobilising revenue through indirect taxes. These indirect taxes affect the citizens of this country alike, whether rich or poor because all people pay same price while buying essential goods and services, which constitute major source of indirect taxes. So ultimately the burden is borne by the people themselves, though indirectly and in such a situation the poor end up paying higher individual tax as compared to the rich until the time the political parties come out with manifestos to supply everything to people’s homes, free of cost.
Learning from past experience
In fact offering freebies is an insult to the voters because political parties are under the wrong impression that all people can be fooled all the time. People should learn from their past experiences because the free television sets offered earlier in Tamil Nadu by DMK’s Karunanidhi were of poor quality and the fans given by Amma had stopped working within a month. Anything that comes free comes with a short life span and therefore the voters should aspire for something long lasting - good basic and higher education, jobs, improving infrastructure facilities better health facilities and drinking water supply, transport and improved infrastructure etc.
Elections in India can be termed as the biggest festival of democracy wherein multi party system exists with divergent ideologies. Naturally election campaigns are marked by feverish speeches, tall and outlandish promises, mudslinging, accusations, allegations and even freebies. Sadly offering such freebies are on the rise clearly demonstrating that our voter is politically not mature. Alas, in Tamil Nadu where personality cult rules the roost people hardly have a third choice, at least as of now.