- A neoliberal economy encourages private capital and the market, while forcing the state to withdraw from welfare.
- Thus limiting the state in taking concrete and constructive efforts to fulfil the aspirations of the people.
- Over the years, with growing culture of freebies among the political parties, similar conditions are evident in different states of India, particularly during the election season.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WELFARE INITIATIVES AND FREEBIES
- Welfare initiatives include a targeted Public Distribution System, providing social security for labourers, quality education, fair employment, affordable healthcare, decent housing, and protection from exploitation and violence.
- Freebies, on the other hand, are provided to attract voters to cast their vote in a particular election.
- They create limited private benefit for the receiver and do not contribute towards strengthening public goods/facilities.
Thus, welfare initiatives are an embodiment of civil rights, whereas unsolicited freebies show benevolence at best and apathy at worst towards the poor by the ruling parties.
FREEBIE CULTURE IN TAMIL NADU
- The culture of freebies in Tamil Nadu was started during the 1967 Assembly elections.
- The then Chief minister by the party in power offered three measures of rice for ₹1.
- The practice of providing freebies was followed by subsequent Chief Ministers promising free TV sets, free laptops to students, free rides for women in buses, free gas cylinders and stoves, a goat and a cow for poor farmers, and so on.
- Initially, the government attempted to strengthen the redistribution of resources for all.
- After the 1990s, parties moved towards clientelism, narrowly focussing on electoral gains.
- In 2021, however, there was a qualitative difference in the manifesto of the few political parties, which avoided most of the freebies except tablet devices to students studying in higher secondary schools and colleges.
- The manifesto reflected more of a programmatic policy intervention towards better public services than narrow private benefits in the form of freebies.
- But major state parties are still silent on land distribution and enhancing budgetary allocation for maintenance of public infrastructure like schools, colleges, hostels and hospitals.
IMPACT OF FREEBIES AND POPULISM
- Providing freebies is to treat people like subjects, whereas citizens are entitled to constitutional guarantees.
- Freebies like distributing laptops, distribution of free consumer goods to the people having ration cards cannot be justified as “public purpose”.
- Such freebies violate the constitutional mandate of extending benefits for public purposes and instead create private benefits.
- Freebies thus, not only depoliticise the poor and marginalised communities but also indirectly deny them their due share of state resources, which in turn drastically widens the gap between the rich and the poor.
- Also freebies harm the free and fair electoral process by enhancing the influence of money in the electoral process.
- Further unsolicited freebies cultivate a patron-client syndrome and encourage personality cults in a democratic polity.
- Besides, they affect the critical faculties of citizens, particularly the poor and the marginalised.
- On the other hand, Populism encourages mediocre political critics and erases critical and rational thinking, which are important to raise pertinent questions to people in power.
- Political parties and civil society need to offer programmatic policy interventions which focus on nation building such as quality aspects in education, healthcare and employment.
- Further they need to ensure fair distribution and redistribution of resources for the marginalised communities.
- There is an urgent need to draw the public’s attention and debate to the dichotomy between welfare and unsolicited freebies or populism, so that the constitutional ideal of a secular, egalitarian and democratic India can be realised.
- A lot of public discussion on this issue, which may lead to a reorientation of public policy in a healthy direction, is the need of the hour.