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Polity | Mains Paper 2: Representation Of People's Act


Prelims level: RPA features can be asked in the Prelims exam

Mains level: Cost of election freebies

Why in news?

  • The Supreme Court stated that Parliament may not be able to effectively discuss the issue of doing away with “irrational freebies” delivered to voters during elections, saying the “truth” is that not a single political party desires to take away freebies.
  • The freebies were paving the path for an “economic disaster” besides “distorting the announced conclusion of voters”, CJI said.

What did the CJI say?

  • The court recommended setting up a specialized body organised of individuals who can “dispassionately” study the problem.
  • The court demanded the parties make “recommendations for the composition of a body”.
  • It suggested that this body could investigate ways to resolve the issue of freebies and file a report before the Centre or the Election Commission of India (ECI).
  • The court stated once the parties come up with suggestions on the arrangement of such a body in a week, it would pass orders.

What is Freebie?

  • The term Freebies is not fresh; rather it is a prevailing culture in Indian politics (in the name of socialism).
  • The political parties are always attempting to top each other in tempting the Indian voters with various freebies.
  • From free water to free smartphones Indian politicians pledge everything to entice prospective voters in turn.
  • This tendency has earned more momentum in recent times with the political parties being creative in their offerings as the ‘traditional free water and electricity is no longer acceptable as election goodies.

Examples of freebies

  1. The promise of Rs 15 lakh in our bank accounts
  2. Free TV, Laptops
  3. Free Electricity
  4. Loan waivers
  5. Offering free public transport rides to all women in Delhi

Why are such policies popular among the public?

  • Failure of economic policies: The solution lies in the utter doom of our financial policies to form a reasonable livelihood for an ample majority of Indians.
  • Quest for decent livelihood: The already low income had to be reoriented towards paying a disproportionately higher amount on education and health, from which, the state increasingly withdrew.
  • Prevailing unemployment:  Employment surveys have revealed that employment growth originally slowed down from the 1990s, and then has shifted negative over the past few years.
  • The increased cost of living: Real income growth of the marginal areas has actually been delayed since the 1991 reforms.
  • Increased consumerism: The low-grade today also spends on things that seem to be luxuries; cell phones and data-packs are two such instances which are displayed as symptoms of India’s increased capital.
  • Necessity: For migrant workers, the mobile phone enables them to keep in touch with their families back home, or do a swift video call to see how their infant is learning to sit up or crawl.

Freebies compared with Welfare Politics

  • These freebies are not wrong. It is an element of social welfare.
  • Using freebies to attract voters is not exemplary.
  • Voter’s greediness may direct to difficulty in choosing a good chief.
  • When we don’t have a good head then democracy will be an irony.

Impact of such policies

  • Never-ending trail: The continuity of freebies is another significant drawback as parties keep on coming up with lucrative offers to lure more votes to lower the risk of losing in the elections.
  • The burden on the exchequer: Individuals forget that such benefits are been given at the cost of the exchequer and from the tax paid.
  • The ultimate loss of the poor: The politicians and middlemen wipe away the benefits and the poor have to suffer as they are deprived of their share of benefits which was to be achieved out of the money.
  • Inflationary practice: Such distribution of freebie commodities largely disrupts demand-supply dynamics.
  • Lethargy in population: Freebies actually have the tendency to turn the nation’s population into Lethargy and devoid of entrepreneurship.
  • Money becomes the only remedy: Everyone at the least sign of distress starts requiring some kind of freebies from the Government
  • Popular politics: This is psychology driving sections of the population to wish that the government promptly answers with immediate economic relief or compensation.

What cannot be accounted for as a freebie?

  1. MGNREGA scheme (rural employment guarantee scheme)
  2. Right to Education (RTE)
  3. Food Security through fair price shops ( under National Food Security Act)
  4. Prime Minister Kisan Samman Yojana (PM-KISAN)

Arguments in favour

  • Social investment: Helping the poor is noticed as a wasteful expense. But low-interest rates for corporates to get affordable loans or the ‘sop’ of cutting corporate taxes are never condemned.
  • Socialistic policy: This attitude comes from decades of functioning within the dominant lesson of market capitalism.
  • Election manifesto: Supporters of such policies would claim that poll guarantees are critical for voters to know what the party would do if it comes to authority and has the chance to consider options.
  • Welfare: Economists opine that as long as any State has the capability and ability to finance freebies then it's acceptable; if not then freebies are a hurdle to the economy.
  • Other wasteful expenditure: When the Centre gives inducements like free land to big enterprises and announces multi-year tax holidays, queries are not asked as to where the money will come from.

A rational analysis of freebies

  • Winning elections and good government are two separate things. The part of freebies to avail exemplary governance is certainly debatable.
  • The social, political and economic developments of freebies are very short-lived in character.
  • There are many freebies and backing schemes available in many States but we still find hunger deaths, lack of electricity, and poor education and health service.
  • Therefore the sorrow of the abundance in India cannot be resolved by freebies or by incentives.
  • So are not freebies represented only to attract voters and manipulate voters by focusing on a preferential group or society?

Way forward

  • It can be decided that democracy needs popular support for its rule to persist. The sops and freebies to the poor purchase the requisite votes.
  • But the democratic methodology of election and election commitments should be clear. It should not manipulate voters' thoughts.
  • What some people term ‘populism’ really includes what real economics should be.
  • If you restrain people from what they really need, you will have to toss allurements at them.
  • This can only be prevented if political masters attempt to pursue what economist EA Schumacher had expressed through his seminal job Small is beautiful – “Treat economics as if people matter.”