Empty promises, empty coffers: Parties sing together in a sop opera ahead of Punjab polls
It’s raining sops in poll-bound Punjab, with all major parties in the fray wooing the voter with a slew of tall promises. From smartphones and jobs, to loan waivers, subsidised ghee, sugar and tea leaves, the voter is being enticed with freebies big and small.assembly elections Updated: Jan 24, 2017 11:27 IST
It’s raining sops in poll-bound Punjab, with all major parties in the fray wooing the voter with a slew of tall promises. From smartphones and jobs, to loan waivers, subsidised ghee, sugar and tea leaves, the voter is being enticed with freebies big and small.
All this in a state that is reeling under a debt of Rs 1.25 lakh crore, and has no money to pay even its pensioners.
Economist Sucha Singh Gill, who has still not received his pension for the month from Punjabi University, calls it competitive populism at its worst. “There is no logic, no commitment, no ability and no planning in these promises. The manifestos are nothing but sheer propaganda. Remember, the state has empty pockets. It’s borrowing to even pay the interest on its debt.”
But, in poll season, parties expect the voters to suspend disbelief. Congress, which had been crying foul at the doles given by the ruling SAD-BJP combine, kicked off its campaign with the mother of all freebies. The party promised 50 lakh 4G-enabled smartphones to the youth, plus one year of free data and calling.
Though SS Johl, chancellor of the Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, calls the scheme “sheer bribery”, over 30 lakh people have already registered for it. Meanwhile, the Congress has quietly tweaked the scheme’s timeline, saying the phones will be given over a period of five years with an allocation of Rs 4,000-5,000 crore. Sandeep Singh, a student from Behram village, calls it another political stunt on the lines of free laptops that the Akali Dal promised in 2012, but never delivered.
Yet, clearly, the parties discount popular memory, and are intent on wooing the youth with promises of employment. As an early bird in the game of manifestos, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) promised to create 25 lakh jobs and 147 entrepreneurship and skill development centres in its youth manifesto released in July last.
Perhaps inspired by this, Congress has promised jobs to one member of all the 55 lakh households in the state, failing which it will give the jobless youth a stipend of Rs 2,500 a month. Not to be outdone, deputy chief minister and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal has now promised to make Punjab a state of entrepreneurs by setting up 2,500 skill development centres to train youngsters who will then be provided loans of up to Rs 10 lakh by the Punjab State Cooperative Bank for setting up businesses. “Why did the state government not take this step in the last 10 years?” growls Gill, who doesn’t see any scope for government jobs. “As for loans, the banks are flush with funds. Why are the parties taking credit for it?”
GHEE, TEA & SUGAR
Their eyes glued to the vote banks, all parties have promised to continue or even add to the existing list of doles. So, the farmers will continue to get free power. And the ‘blue card’ holders will carry on enjoying the subsidised atta-dal, albeit with some tea, sugar and ghee thrown in for good measure.
While the Congress has promised to add sugar and tea to this freebie, both BJP and Akali Dal have sworn to give ghee as well, 2 kg to be precise, at a mere Rs 25 a kg.
Calling it one of the most absurd promises, Dr Johl quips: “Why don’t they promise masala and milk as well?”
“The saying, ‘aapke munh mein ghee shakkar’ finally rings true now,” says Devinder Sharma, founder member of Kisan Ekta, a union of 65 farmers’ organisations, adding that he can’t help but laugh at this theatre of absurd.
Sharma is particularly piqued at the promise of loan waiver by the big three comprising SAD, Congress and AAP. “Whom are they trying to fool? Had it been possible, wouldn’t the Akali Dal have already done it?” he asks.
Sharma is equally dismissive about AAP’s promise of giving farm labourers a compensation of Rs 10,000 for every month of loss of work. “Where will they get the money from?”
It’s one question to which none of the parties has any concrete answer. But they are united in their enthusiasm for bolstering the existing doles. The shagun scheme launched by the ruling combine has received a thumbs up from both Congress and AAP, which have decided to increase the old-age and widow monthly pension from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000, and the shagun from Rs 15,000 to Rs 51,000. Needless to say, both BJP and Akalis have vowed to do the same.
The parties are also on the same page when it comes to wooing Dalits. No one knows where the land will come from but both Congress and BJP have vowed to provide a free house or 5 marla land to homeless Dalits. It’s ditto for AAP.
Ruing that there is no economic basis to any of these promises, Dr Johl has just one piece of advice: “Don’t believe any party.”
It seems the parties are also united in their belief that promises are made to be broken.