GOVERNANCE SUFFERS AT THE ALTAR OF POPULISM
The Government’s plan to dole out free cell phones is the latest episode in the sop opera. It focusses on short-term gains at the cost of the country’s future
HE UPA government’s reported move to give free mobile phones to 60 lakh households is yet another telling instance of the freebies culture that has enveloped our politics. In Uttar Pradesh, political parties vied with each other to offer all kinds of short-term sops to voters. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK and AIADMK indulged in breathtaking competitive populism. Blender, ceiling fan, washing machine, gas stove, colour TV, laptop, foodgrain and gold — all were on offer. In Andhra Pradesh, YS Rajasekhara Reddy came to power by offering 2/ kg rice to more than 2 crore families in the state.
Reckless populism has taken hold of political parties at both the state and national level. It is time we examined this phenomenon closely and took corrective steps before all governance is reduced to a combination of plunder and populism.
As people were increasingly disenchanted with governments, parties started wooing voters with money and liquor. As all traditional parties bought votes, large expenditure in elections became an entry fee to be able to seriously compete. It precluded the entry of competent and honest citizens into politics, and helped only those who could spend vast sums ( 5-10 crore per Assembly seat in states such as AP, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu). Large expenditure does not guarantee victory, but non-expenditure means certain defeat.
In addition, political parties have cynically started using public money to offer sops to poor voters. What started with Indira Gandhi spread to MGR, NTR and other populist leaders, and YSR reached the pinnacle of populism.