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Freebies for everyone, the Centre is buying

The Congress and BJP are tripping over each other to announce freebies in poll bound Chhattisgarh. The problem is: how much of all this is hot air? Who is going to pay for the hand-outs? Manas Chakravarty writes.

columns Updated: Nov 17, 2013 02:07 IST

Chhattisgarh voter 1: Who're you going to vote for?

Chhattisgarh voter 2: Well, the Congress says it'll increase the procurement price of paddy to Rs 2,000 per quintal. That's a massive hike. My family's got lots of farm land, so it'll be a huge help.

Voter 1: The BJP does even better. It says it will give Rs 2,100 per quintal.

Voter 2: Great. But it is promising rice at Rs 1 per kg for poor families, while the Congress says it'll give 35 kg of rice free to everybody except income tax payers. Do you pay income tax?

Voter 1: Don't be silly, that's for the poor salaried guys.

Voter 2: Absolutely. The Congress scheme looks pretty good. Long live Rahulji.

Voter 1: Not so fast. The BJP has promised to give a bonus of Rs 300 per quintal of paddy. That's apart from interest-free crop loans, free electricity for pumps, no taxes on tractor trolleys and lots of loans at very low interest rates.

Voter 2: Take an interest-free loan to sell paddy at a guaranteed inflated price, with the crop insured and then get the rice free, it's a wonderful business. I think I'll take up farming. Long live Modiji.

Voter 1: Hang on. The Congress will waive short-term agricultural loans, give crop loans at 0% to small farmers, lower electricity charges and property taxes.

Voter 2: Will they throw in free cows?

Voter 1: Good idea. The BJP has promised a free laptop or tablet to all college students. That'll be handy for my kid. Plus her education will be entirely free.

Voter 2: How about some free jewellery for her wedding? The BJP will apparently put aside money for every new-born girl so she gets a lakh of rupees on her eighteenth birthday.

Voter 1: Only a lakh? The Congress promises doles for women even after marriage.

Voter 2: But can it match the BJP's assurance that 90% of jobs in industry will be reserved for locals?

Voter 1: Fantastic. Raj Thackeray must be green with envy.

Voter 2: The Congress too says it'll ensure jobs for locals.

Voter 1: Hope that good-for-nothing nephew of mine finally lands a job.

Voter 2: Oh he won't need it. The BJP says it will provide the educated unemployed with loans up to Rs 5 lakh at 3% interest.

Voter 1: Marvellous. Any goodies for my uncle? He's a semi-comatose state government babu.

Voter 2: Of course. The Congress says it will implement the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations as soon as they're made. The BJP will give full pension to employees who have pretended to work for 25 years.

Voter 1: Awesome. I really love these populist, sorry, socialist policies of the Congress.

Voter 2: But the BJP's policies are even more socialist. The problem is: how much of all this is hot air? Who the heck is going to pay for the hand-outs? Not me.

Voter 1: Ah, that's where the BJP comes out a clear winner. They've taken a leaf out of Nitish's book and said they'll seek special status for Chhattisgarh, demand more funds from the central government.

Voter 2: Excellent. We get the freebies, the Centre pays for it. We must vote for this brilliant scheme.

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint

Views expressed by the author are personal