Freebies from political parties are ruinous for the economy and the social fabric, but no party has had the courage to eschew them. Finally, the Supreme Court has been constrained to take an initiative to end the menace. It has given political parties a week’s time to nominate members of a committee the court wants to constitute, to study the problem and suggest measures for tackling it. The Centre has accepted the court’s viewpoint that freebies are harmful to the nation and they need to be ended in the best interest of democracy. Chief Justice of India NV Ramana wants the Election Commission and the Centre to play a key role in implementing the suggestions of the committee.
Political parties employ freebies in successive elections, whether they are to the civic bodies or the Assembly or Parliament. No party has the moral or ideological strength to abjure freebies while seeking votes on their political, social and economic agenda. Freebies, otherwise known as handouts, have in the past proved effective in winning elections. If a television receiver was the freebie that helped a lady to win a southern state, it was the promise of free electricity up to 200 units per family that helped a regional party in the north. Even national parties like the BJP and the Congress cannot afford to face an election without promising freebies to the electorate. On their part, the voters have also come to take for granted such handouts as if they are their birthright.
The danger is that the voters no longer base their decision on what a political party has stood for or has sacrificed in furtherance of the common good. Their decision is influenced by the value of the freebies like free electricity in Punjab, bicycles for every girl student in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and ration kits as in Kerala. They lead to economic and environmental disasters like in Punjab where free electricity has encouraged farmers to dig wells that are deeper and deeper to draw out water, which is often wasted. Remember the promise of computer tablets at throwaway prices that the government could not eventually deliver. The utility of freebies itself has become questionable, as every party competitively offers free goods and services. The one that offers the best should win but there is no such guarantee, as despite offering the moon, the Congress could win only two seats in Uttar Pradesh.
In the initial decades of the Republic, the voters voted for parties or candidates they thought would effectively represent them and ensure the progress of the nation. The MLAs and MPs thought that their primary job was making laws — until the MP and MLA local area development funds were given to them to build roads and public utilities. Soon, they began to be seen as glorified contractors and their success was measured on the quantity of concrete used for construction. Freebies have become counterproductive. Now, wherever the Aam Aadmi Party contests, it cannot but offer free electricity. Like the one who mounted the tiger in the apocryphal story, political parties cannot do away with freebies without losing out. They should have themselves taken steps to end this public bribery. They should be grateful to the apex court for taking this initiative that needs their whole-hearted support.
To separate or not to separate is the question
Marriages are made in heaven but separations are allowed on earth. And they come with a price. No one knows this better than a dentist. A lady doctor in Mumbai found that extraction was the easier option when her marital life hit the rock of Gibraltar somewhere in Maharashtra. She extracted herself and her two children from her spouse’s house to stay in the relative comfort of her parental house in Mumbai. That is when she realised that extraction was not just painful but costly too. She had to support herself and her children in these days of spiralling inflation that comes with a GST tag too. She worked out the cost at Rs 1,10,000 a month. Who else should pick up the tab than her former spouse and father of her children? Whether the amount was circumspect or exorbitant, no one knows – but what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and the judge concluded that a dentist like her with so much experience could easily support herself and her children. Divorce is easier said than done!