If politicians in Tamil Nadu have their way, there will be a freebie bonanza in the state — from foreign educational tour for farmers to free autos and taxis for women and guaranteed part-time jobs for all girl students.
These are just some of the promises made by the four chief ministerial candidates — chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, PWF-DMDKTMC alliance leader Vijayakanth and Pattali Makkal Katchi’s Anbumani Ramadoss.
The Election Commission guideline to make only “rational” promises and to indicate means to meet them “financially” has done little to deter candidates, who continue to make promises that could have potentially catastrophic ramifications of the state’s economy.
“[But] this is the last thing on [ anyone’s] mind... This country-be-damned kind of an attitude will surely destroy the state ,” said Prof ARV en katachalapathy of MID A.
Nonetheless, Jayalalithaa has promised expansion of the Amma brand “into areas and territories you cannot even imagine” and much more — mobile phones for all ration card holders, two-wheelers at half price for working women, eight grams of gold during marriage of girls from BPL families, free set-top box for Arasu Cable TV subscribers, a job for one member of each household and a host of welfare schemes and heavy subsidies.
Her bete noire, M Karunanidhi, has been a tad more practical but the DMK has talked of waving loans of farmers and students.
Vijayakanth took the cake when he promised that his government will help release nearly 200 Tamil films that are ready but unable to release for various reasons. Under his rule, people will not have to queue up at ration shops as the subsidised food articles would be delivered to their doorsteps, fuel will be cheaper — petrol at
45 per litre and diesel at 35 per litre. Also, one lakh autos and taxies would be given to women for free, government pension for people above age 60 and a part-time job to every girl student with 2,000 stipend per month.
But the most hard-to-digest promise was the one about sending 25,000 farmers on educational tours abroad, and the PWF’s promise to give two acres land to landless farmers and the poor.
Anbumani Ramadoss has scoffed at this freebie culture but his party could not resist announcing free education, free medical treatment and free bus travel, and not to mention free iPads with Wi-Fi for students to lighten their school bags.
Farmers haven’t been ignored either — they’ve been promised free seeds, free fertilisers and a free tractor for each village.
Economists, on the other hand, are aghast.
They believe such populist schemes will destroy the state, which is already reeling under crippling public debt of over 2.5 lakh crore. Financial burden, they say, will touch unimaginable levels.
“Debt burden on each and every individual of the state will be unbearable and in the long run the economy will be ruined,” said Prof S Janakarajan, development economist at Madras Institute of Development Studies. “Competitive populism will bring down the overall development and welfare levels in the state.”
While candidates try to one up each other with financially catastrophic promises, talk of infrastructure development, industry and agriculture growth, and other indicators of modern-day social and economic growth have taken a backseat.
“Freebies are nothing but plain and simple bribe to the voters in exchange of a shot at power,” said Prof Janakarajan.