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Freebie Culture-An emerging trend in Indian politics

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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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.
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 labours, 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 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 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. 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. 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 Covid pandemic. A high profile political leader in Manipur also often says, 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 government provide free vaccination and free rice to our public? This is his big voice in many occasions. This burden of price hike to general public could be because of freebies.
There are some other examples of freebies where States provide phone, 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. 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, Aam Adami 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 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.
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 Madras 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 State. Freebies culture paves way to corrupt practice. Involvement of middle man to get those freebies cannot be avoided. Many discrepancies are reported also. 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.
(Writer can be reached to:[email protected])


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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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