Those who enjoy or avail freebies from political leaders 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.
BySanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
Updated 6 Jun 2022, 5:13 am
Freebies can be defined as something without charge or cost. It has been rife in Indian politics. It is a well-known and widespread practice during elections. Freebie culture is one of the best lucrative methods adopted by political parties to lure voters. In the 2019 general election not only the Congress party but the 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 helicopters and taking voters to a tour of the moon.
Freebies – welfare politics?
Yes, we understand that the 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 the welfare of people.
In welfare politics, freebies are also named as hand-outs, doles, sops or incentives. These terms are 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.
Freebie culture in India
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 poverty and to empower the target beneficiaries.
Gradually, it is observed that there is a thin line between labours, work, outcome and the nation’s economy.
Winning elections 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 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 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 something free to the people, then does it come under freebie culture?
Some sociologists argue that these freebies are Elitist-construct. It means these are the opinions 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 it is fine; if not then freebies are a burden on the economy.
Despite knowing the fact that these freebies will put state revenue in the red zone, political parties are competing with each other to lure the voters.
It is opined by many that the present price hike in petroleum products and other essential items/commodities could be because of freebies in free Covid vaccination and free rice under NFSA due to the Covid pandemic.
A high profile political leader in Manipur often says that the price hike of essential commodities is due to tax collection from various sectors just to meet the expenditure for fighting Covid pandemic. If taxes are not imposing, how can the government provide free vaccination and free rice to our public?
This is his big voice on many occasions. This burden of price hike to the general public could be because of freebies.
Freebies and sustainable solution to India’s poor
There are some other examples of freebies where States provide phones, laptops, grinders, bicycles and free transportation. 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 solution. The Governments both State and Centre have been providing such freebies to them.
Ironically, Indian agriculture is still marked with low productivity.
Additional burden on the exchequer
Freebies have recently been playing a prominent role in India’s electoral policies. Despite knowing the fact that freebies will put additional burden on the exchequer, political parties have been competing with each other in the run-up to elections by announcing a string of freebies to woo the voters.
The culture of freebies that was started by Late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, promising free sarees, pressure cookers, washing machines, television sets etc. was quickly followed by other political parties.
In North India, the Aam Aadmi Party took the lead, sweeping the Delhi Assembly Elections in 2015, by promising free electricity, water, bus travel to the voters of Delhi.
The situation has now come to such a stage where, in response to a petition by Hindu Sena Vice –President Surjit Singh Yadav, the Supreme Court had to issue a notice to the Election Commission of India over the complaint of political parties wooing voters, with the promise of freebies ahead of the recently concluded Assembly Elections in five states, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab. The Court observed in this connection that, the promise of freebies was a serious issue.
Impact of freebies: Paving way to corrupt practices
This version compels us to contemplate where India is headed. The freebies in the election manifesto are just like open auctions. 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' thoughts. Further to this, the Madras High Court said freebies make people lazy and irresponsible in Tamil Nadu. It may be applicable to people of other states.
It is observed that there is scarcity of local labourers in the market. Local labourers are now replaced by migrant workers from other States.
Freebies culture paves way to corrupt practices.
Involvement of middle man to get those freebies cannot be avoided. Many discrepancies are reported also. Using freebies to lure voters is not a healthy political move.
Voter’s greed for freebies from politicians may lead to a problem in choosing a good political leader. Absence of a good leader will only render democracy a mockery, ultimately resulting in poor governance.