Selective freebies?


Though it is not clear what the guidelines are that the Election Commission is preparing on the freebies that political parties can or cannot bestow...

Though it is not clear what the guidelines are that the Election Commission is preparing on the freebies that political parties can or cannot bestow on the electorate on the eve of elections, the Commission needs to tread warily. Its idealism that parties promising to deliver on the Directive Principles of State Policy should not be curbed, and that, at the same time, no party should be allowed to promise TV sets, mixers, grinders and even mangalsutras (the last probably to both married and unmarried women!) seems to reckon without the ground reality that political parties are not honest enough to set out in their respective manifestos the freebies that would be conferred on voters in the event of one party or another getting elected. Promises, such as provision of drinking water, road connectivity, establishment of schools and hospitals and meeting the needs of the deprived sections of the population and of people in remote and inhospitable areas have been made by almost every political party since the inception of elections in India. But their fulfillment by those very parties, once in power, perhaps does not bear looking into!

Even though the Directive Principles of State Policy laid down by the Constitution are not justiciable, they are mandatory for implementation by the Government. But has any of the governments that India has had since turning a republic ever tried to implement any of them? Why should political parties be allowed to make such promises as they have no intention of fulfilling even with taxpayer’s money? It would, on the contrary, be more honest to promise to distribute colour TV sets, etc, because such promises earn votes.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “the poor would not be visible if they did not have votes”; and votes are secured not by community benefits but by individual gains. Have there not been several cases in India of elected representatives manifesting themselves before their constituents only at the next election? How can the people, the voters, trust such shadowy wraiths to improve the lot of society by providing drinking water to parched areas and such other benefits? Therefore, they are not enthused by such amorphous promises and vote only for those parties and candidates who can deliver, then and there, more tangible benefits.
As such, there is no point either in fixing a ceiling on the expenditure on an election or on freebies. Besides, which political party is honest enough to admit in its manifesto that, on election-eve, it offers free liquor and food to go with it to voters from the poorer sections? Should they not be considered as freebies? Again, a political leader of Mumbai admitted some time ago that he had spent Rs. 8 crore on an election to Parliament which he eventually won. If he did really do that and was not making an empty boast to impress his audience, it was a clear violation of the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission. But his claim is yet to be investigated. There is no paucity either of good laws or guidelines or moral principles in India; but they all exist only on paper. Why have such laws and guidelines as cannot be enforced? Therefore, if even one party agrees to confine its freebies to community benefits, the nation will gladly sing praises of it and vote for it as a whole!
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