In freebie culture, voter's choice is manipulated

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In freebie culture, voter's choice is manipulated

Thursday, 15 April 2021 | ABASH PARIDA



Freebies have a key place in our Indian election manifesto. Recently freebies are pouring on both Tamil Nadu and West Bengal voters. Maa canteen, Kanyshree for girls, Krishak Bandhu  for framers, free washing machines, free house, free tab and cash incentive to Brahmin priests are instances of few of the many freebies showered on voters before the polls.

Despite knowing the fact that these freebies will put State revenue in red zone, political parties are competing with each other to lure the voters.  There are some other examples of freebies where States provide phones, laptops, grinders, bicycles and free transportations.

Freebies can be defined as something without charge or cost. It has been rife in Indian politics. It is a very well known and widespread practice during election.

Freebies are the best lucrative methods adopted by political parties to lure voters. In 2019 general election not only Congress party but BJP also joined the race to offer freebies. There is a paradigm shift in the offerings of freebies. Conventional offerings like free water, free electricity and free health services have lost their charm.

New offerings like free gadgets and cash incentives are coming up. In every election political parties are offering innovative, lucrative and materialistic ideas of freebies. Some independent candidates go further in their freebies by offering helicopter and taking voters to a tour of moon. Yes, we understand that State should provide welfare and insurance to its citizens. The argument which favours freebies says that it is also another form of social welfare. There are limited studies available in India to find out the impact of freebies on welfare of people.

The origin of freebie culture in India can be traced to the Tamilnadu politics. Afterwards political parties across the nation adopted this as one of the doctrines to woo voters.

In welfare politics freebies are also named as hand-outs, doles, sops or incentives. These terms are very encouraging.  But in an under-tax country like India it is not feasible to accept such things, as tax-evasion also happens frequently.

Those who enjoy or avail the freebies should be aware of the fact that these freebies are not coming from the pockets of any political parties but from the taxpayers including them who are the beneficiaries. Freebies are not only the reflection of political promise but also an accepted way of life in India.  The freebie culture started with some outlines such as it would help to enhance the capacity of poor people, to reduce the poverty and to empower the target beneficiaries.

Gradually, it is observed that there is very thin connection between labour, work, outcome and nation’s economy Winning election and good governance are two different things. The role of freebies to avail good governance is questionable.

The crucial features of good governance are equality, equity, inclusiveness, social justice and accountability. And these should be in seen from a long term perspective. The social, political and economic consequences of freebies are very short-lived in nature.  

There are many freebies and subsidies schemes available in many States including Odisha, Delhi , Rajasthan and many more. Still we find starvation deaths, lack of electricity, poor education and health service.  So are not freebies meant only to attract voters and swing voters by concentrating on a preferential group or community? Providing a basic healthcare, an affordable education and other essential services like water, house and electricity are the functions and responsibility of any elected Government.

 If a Government is providing those to people then does it come under freebie culture? Some sociologists argue that these freebies are Elitist –Construct. It means these are the opinion from higher class who are barred from availing those freebies.

Economists opine that as long as any State has the capacity and ability to finance freebies then its fine; if not then freebies are the burden on economy.

Some scholars go further and say that there is little evidence to support the relationship between freebies and economy. So freebies are only a bad political philosophy.

The sorrow of poor people in India cannot be solved by freebies or by incentives. As far as farmers and their productivities are concerned, free electricity, free water, farm loan waivers, subsidies and minimum support price are not the sustainable solutions.

 The Governments both State and Centre have been providing such freebies to them. Ironically Indian agriculture is still marked with low productivity. As per a statistics, China’s rice productivity is 7 tonnes per hectare compared to India’s 4 tonnes.

China’s rice productive land is only two third of India’s cultivable land. It means we have a huge cultivable land in India but the production in comparison to this is minimal.  Freebies in agricultural sector have also obstructed the use of innovation and acceptance of technology.

 KALIA scheme in Odisha is meant to provide financial help to farmers. But the distribution and utilisation of such financial help should be scrutinized in a larger canvas. In Tamilandu , mixer grinders were offered and it was reported that it was not specifically meant to lure voters but it was used as a labour-saving tool. Similarly, laptops, bicycles and free transportations have many positive effects on the beneficiaries.

In a recent judgement, the Madras High Court showed its disapproval to freebies culture in Tamil Nadu. The court said major political parties in the State are competing with each other to accumulate votes by offering freebies. By citing a sarcastic comment, the court said if one political party is willing to cook food for voters, another is ready to cook and feed.

 This version compels us to contemplate that where India goes.  The freebies in election manifesto are just like open auction. Voters are at the receiving end. They enjoy the political promises.

The democratic process of election and election promises should be clear. It should not control voters thought.  Further to this, the Madars High Court said freebies make people lazy and irresponsible in Tamilnadu. It may be applicable to people of other States. It is observed that there is scarcity of local labourers in market. Local labourers are now replaced by migrant workers from other States.

Freebies culture paves way to corrupt practice. Involvement of middle man to get those freebies cannot be avoided. Many discrepancies are reported also.

The Supreme Court of India gave a ruling in favour of offering of freebies. It said freebies are not corrupt practice as it is mentioned in election manifesto.

See, these freebies are not bad. It is a part of social welfare. Using freebies to lure voters is not good. Voter’s greediness may lead to a problem in choosing a good leader. When we don’t have a good leader then democracy will be a mockery.

(Dr Parida is Assistant Professor and Columnist, Resides at Shree Mahodadhi Nilaya, Tamando, Bhubaneswar. 8456879522)

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