Notwithstanding adverse Supreme Court comments, political parties would be able to offer whatever freebies they want through their election manifestos.
The Election Commission has failed to find a suitable mechanism to regulate freebies offered by parties through their manifestos. “It would be difficult to regulate manifestos without curbing freedom of speech of the political parties guaranteed in the Constitution,” a senior EC official said.
The commission is also of the view that imposing curbs, which the parties refuse to implement would not be an exercise worth undertaking. A suggestion to get the manifestos vetted by the commission has been rejected as it would lead to infringement of the parties’ freedom to declare public policy. Moreover, the commission believes that the voters should be the best judge on the promises made by parties.
The commission had held consultations with the political parties on bringing the manifestos under its model code of conduct. Not even a single political party had agreed to the SC’s suggestion of putting curbs on announcement of freebies. The court had directed the commission to come out with guidelines to bring the party manifestos under the model code’s ambit.
“It would be improper for the commission to start interfering in manifestos,” a senior Congress leader said, adding that many freebies have lead to empowerment of those who cannot afford high-cost services. The UPA government is planning to give free mobiles and tablets to the 300 million poor people across India before the next general elections. Samajwadi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal had distributed free laptops to college-going students after winning the last assembly elections.
Caught in a predicament, the EC would be coming out with generic guidelines advising parties not to make announcements that are in violation of the model code of conduct and disturbs the electoral level playing field. The commission has already taken over two months to frame these guidelines.