Sop opera on prime time as state polls draw near

CMs of four poll­bound states have an­nounced schemes worth crores

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Ht Nation - Chetan Chauhan chetan@hin­dus­tan­times.com ■ (With in­puts from Ran­jan in Bhopal, Ritesh Mishra in Raipur and Ur­vashi Dev Rawal in Jaipur)

Gov­ern­ment sops to woo vot­ers are not un­usual be­fore elec­tions. This time, the chief min­is­ters of four elec­tion­bound states — Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Te­lan­gana — have an­nounced hun­dreds of new schemes, from of­fers of smart­phones with free data to tif­fin boxes to free elec­tric­ity to jobs, with an eye on the polls.

That’s in ad­di­tion to con­struc­tion of new roads and bridges , plans for which have been an­nounced in the last few months.

If im­ple­mented, th­ese sops could eat up to 35% of the to­tal rev­enue ex­pen­di­ture pro­posed in the bud­gets of th­ese states for cur­rent fi­nan­cial year. Economists say an­nounc­ing sops with­out proper plan­ning de­rails the longterm fis­cal man­age­ment en­tailed by the Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Bud­get Man­age­ment Act, 2003. But there is no pro­vi­sion in the law which pre­vents the an­nounce­ment of sops with an eye vot­ers. In fact, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion’s model code of con­duct pro­hibits an­nounce­ments of gov­ern­ment schemes only af­ter the elec­tions sched­ule is an­nounced.

The grow­ing trend of of­fer­ing free­bies was chal­lenged in the Supreme Court, which in 2013 di­rected the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion to frame guide­lines on elec­tion man­i­festos and mis­use of free­bies. How­ever, the com­mis­sion af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with po­lit­i­cal par­ties, came out with an ad­vi­sory on fram­ing of man­i­festos, but ex­pressed its in­abil­ity to check free­bies.

“The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion can­not do much,” said for­mer chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner S Y Qu­raishi. “The com­mis­sion’s ju­ris­dic­tion starts only af­ter the poll sched­ule is an­nounced, which is nor­mally 45 days be­fore the polling. Nowa­days, of­fer­ing sops starts sev­eral months be­fore elec­tions are an­nounced”.

Elec­tion watch­ers say the trend of of­fer­ing in­cen­tives to vot­ers has gained mo­men­tum in the re­cent years as elec­tions are now be­ing con­tested with greater in­ten­sity. With vot­ers be­com­ing blasé over tra­di­tional bi­jli, pani and sadak (power, water and roads) prom­ises, par­ties are get­ting in­no­va­tive with prom­ises that pro­vides im­me­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion such as free phones loaded with data, lap­tops and bi­cy­cles.

Ra­jasthan CM Va­sund­hara Raje promised to pro­vide sub­sidised smart­phones to 10 mil­lion poor peo­ple in the state with free data for the first six months. Her coun­ter­part in Mad­hya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has vowed to give a smart­phone to ev­ery stu­dent who takes ad­mis­sion in a gov­ern­ment col­lege.

Ch­hat­tis­garh chief min­is­ter Ra­man Singh says his gov­ern­ment will give tif­fin boxes to all labour­ers work­ing un­der the Ma­hatma Gandhi Ru­ral Em­ploy­ment Guar­an­tee Scheme tol im­prove their health. Te­lan­gana chief min­is­ter K Chan­drashekar Rao hiked re­mu­ner­a­tion for ed­u­ca­tors in re­li­gious schools three­fold just be­fore de­cid­ing to rec­om­mend dis­so­lu­tion of the state assem­bly on Septem­ber 6.

Farm­ers, an in­flu­en­tial vote bloc, are the big­gest tar­get group of sops this elec­tion sea­son.

Chouhan has been claim­ing on the cam­paign trail that his gov­ern­ment has spent ₹35,000 crore for farm­ers’ wel­fare this year. Rao cred­its him­self with In­dia’s first pro-sow­ing in­cen­tive scheme called Rythu Bandhu

(friend of farm­ers). Raje ded­i­cated her bud­get to farm­ers with at least a dozen schemes, in­clud­ing a farm loan waiver from co­op­er­a­tive banks. Ra­man Singh just last week an­nounced ₹300 per quin­tal in ad­di­tion to the min­i­mum sup­port price (MSP) to paddy farm­ers.

Vi­jay Vir Singh of the eco­nomics de­part­ment at the Univer­sity of Ra­jasthan says that free­bies do not con­trib­ute to the econ­omy in any way. “Giv­ing sops does not make eco­nomic sense. It’s a pop­ulist mea­sure but does not lead to eco­nomic growth,” he said.

Bhopal-based econ­o­mist Jayan­ti­lal Bhan­dari said th­ese schemes look good on pa­per but does not do much for the peo­ple in­stantly as their im­ple­men­ta­tion takes time.

The com­mon re­frain of the rul­ing party func­tionar­ies in the elec­tion-bound states is that the new schemes are an ex­ten­sion of the good work be­ing done by the govern­ments and show the in­cum­bent par­ties’ in­ten­tions of pro­mot­ing pub­lic wel­fare.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties term the sops an in­di­ca­tion of gov­er­nance fail­ure. “If the state gov­ern­ment has done so well, why is the chief min­is­ter (Va­sund­hara Raje) mak­ing so many an­nounce­ments know­ing well she can­not im­ple­ment them?” asked Ra­jasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot.

The four states are ex­pected to go to the polls in Novem­ber-De­cem­ber this year.

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