With two major assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal on the cards we can find the political parties showering freebies to the prospective voters and may change the equations at the state level. The revenue deficit of states may go on increasing but the trend continues to gain momentum in our election scene. The revenue management is going for a toss in the states at the cost of distributing freebies. Any small business will tell you the elementary rules of financial discipline-you cannot be making cash losses. But that is what we are doing right now with no tiny or manageable figures. The deficit has been attributed to two factors-fall in revenue owning to reduced petroleum prices and a sharp increase in welfare measures in all the states. The latter is nothing but but a euphemism for freebies. These have, sadly, become integral part of governance, no matter which party is in power in the States. This was not the case till a couple of decades ago. The welfare measures cannot be reined but proves to be a hurdle in a developing country like ours. But that is what we are doing right now and with no tiny or manageable figures.
The once famous welfare scheme of Tamil Nadu under the able leadership of matinee idol MGR, the mid-day meal scheme is widely acclaimed and adopted by many other states as a most successful one in Indian political scenario. We have come across states pioneer in several measures that have gone a long way in improving the standard of living. These include steps taken in the fields of education, health care, housing and women’s welfare. In many of these, Tamil Nadu was far ahead of other states of India and when it came to the noon meal scheme, the state was ahead of many countries in the world. It must also be pointed out that all of these helped in transforming lives at a fundamental level-they were truly agent’s of social uplift.
What has since happened reeks of populism. We do not wish to comment on freebies for social causes like the amounts given for weddings, pernicious though the practise is of even the weakest sections of society wanting to spend hard earned money on lavish ceremonies. The freebies like television sets offered to poor in Tamil Nadu was replicated in Mumbai households too. What motivation then exists for people to work hard, earn a living and then strive to improve their living conditions? Freebies have come to stay and are, unfortunately, going to become bigger. Once the belief has sent in that the only way to win votes is by giving such gifts, there is no end to it. We wish to bring out a hard working India and not a hardly working state with benefits of freebies available throughout the year.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)