Mixer-grinders, mangalsutras, sheep, cows, rice, drinking water, these are just some of the things coming out of the poll-bound parties' Santa Claus sack. But would it not be more feasible to come out with long-term solutions to the problems voters face instead of trying to buy votes via promises of freebies? Ahead of the elections in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK and DMK have been outdoing each other in buying the voters' affections. While the DMK hoped that it would come up with a winning masala combination by offering a mixer or grinder, the AIADMK has offered both and a fan. Bowing to demographics, the DMK has promised laptops for first-year college students in government colleges, the AIADMK has sweetened the deal by promising it to all students and also to Class 11 and 12 students. Every party worth its election symbol, is dipping into its coffers to come up with sweeteners like free power, free rice, quotas, liquor and money. While some are clearly promised in the poll manifestoes, others are made attractive in that they are hinted at.
While many argue in favour of freebies, this is a dangerous trend because it makes bribery and corruption acceptable norms. It also violates the Constitution that mandates fair play among all parties, big or small. So if there's a law and the parties are violating it, then why isn't the Election Commission pulling them up? Once the election is announced, the ruling government becomes a 'lame duck' government and cannot take any financial decisions. So as a government, it cannot announce free gifts. But there's no such law governing political parties. Moreover, should rights be confused with freebies? Take for example, the promise about 20 litres of water and cheap grain. Aren't these the basic rights of citizens? How can a political party say that the voters will get these only if they vote for it? Elections cannot be a bargaining chip between the political parties and citizens. If it becomes that, then let the power go to the highest bidder. We don't need an expensive exercise like the elections. Financially too, such promises ruin state finances and its institutions: think free power to farmers and the state of the Punjab electricity board. The irony is that while most of these parties extend freebies to BPL families, they show no commitment towards revising existing BPL lists.
But fortunately, recent elections show that such freebies don't always translate into votes. The fact that the voter really does look a gift horse in the mouth quite often means that political parties will have to do more than pull more rabbits out of the hat. Until then they will be treated as Greeks bearing gifts, by many whom they are trying to entice.