A PIL that was filed in the Supreme Court earlier this year has now spurred a nationwide debate. It said that promise or distribution of irrational freebies from public funds before elections could unduly influence the voters, shake the roots of a free-and-fair election, and disturb the level playing field, besides vitiating the purity of the election process.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, recently, cautioned people against what he called a “revadi culture” of offering freebies for votes and said this is “very dangerous” for the development of the country.
Promising pre-poll sops to voters has been a common custom among India’s politicians for decades. From cash to liquor, household gadgets, scholarships, subsidies, and food grains— the options are endless. Let’s take a look at some that were memorable:
‘Amma’ of freebie politics?
Late Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa was in many ways one of the pioneers of the freebie culture. She promised free power, mobile phones, WiFi connections, subsidised scooters, interest-free loans, fans, mixer-grinders, scholarships, and more, to the voters. The Amma Canteen chain started by her was also a huge success. She must have picked up some tips from one of her predecessors, chief minister CN Annadurai, who in the 1960s announced a kilogram of rice for Re 1.
In Tamil Nadu, the DMK was not far behind. In 2006, the party made promises to provide free colour television sets to the people and cooking gas connections for Below Poverty Line (BPL) households.
However, after returning to power in 2011, Jayalalithaa scrapped the DMK’s colour TV scheme.
Cash-for-votes row and WikiLeaks
In 2011, the cash-for-votes scandal erupted in Tamil Nadu, with a WikiLeaks cable alleging that politicians had admitted to violating election law to influence voters in the 2009 Thirumangalam by-elections.
The cable explained the alleged modus operandi for cash distribution adopted by the DMK: “Rather than using the traditional practice of handing cash to voters in the middle of the night, in Thirumangalam, the DMK distributed money to every person on the voting roll in envelopes inserted in their morning newspapers. In addition to the money, the envelopes contained the DMK ‘voting slip’ which instructed the recipient for whom they should vote.” This, the cable noted, “forced everyone to receive the bribe”.
Pressing the right keys
In 2013, the Akhilesh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh announced an ambitious free laptop scheme for students that many believed won him great political capital, particularly amongst the youth.
A total of 15 Lakh laptops were distributed by the state government between 2012 and 2015.
Sowing the seeds
In Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal came into office in 1997 with, among other factors, the offer of free power to farmers.
The cost on the exchequer made chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress in 2002 to scrap it, only to reinstate the scheme a few years later.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party at present appears to be one of the biggest proponents of the freebie model of politics. Before the 2015 assembly elections in Delhi, in which it registered a famous victory, AAP promised a reduction of consumers’ electricity expenditure by 50 per cent through an audit of power distribution companies, and 700 litres of free water per day to every household.
As it tries to spread its wings in other states, having already added Punjab to its kitty, AAP is looking to diversify its arsenal with promises of scholarships for the youth, pilgrimages for the elderly, and money in the hands of women, etc.
Promising the moon
In last year’s Tamil Nadu elections, independent candidate from the South Madurai seat Thulam Saravanan promised a 100-day free trip to the moon, iPhones, robots for homemakers to help them in their domestic chores, three-story houses with swimming pools for everyone, mini-helicopters, 100 sovereigns of gold to women for their marriage, a boat for every family, and $50,000 to youths to start business ventures.
All his promises, he said, were a dig at the freebie culture prevalent in the state. He, however, failed to impress the voters.
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