It all started in 1967 when the DMK offered an impractical three measures of rice close to 5 kg a rupee (working out to roughly 21 paise per kg). It was an extremely attractive bait offered soon after the severe shortage of rice suffered by the state during 1965-66. Of course the DMK, aspiring to win the election for the first time, had no idea about the feasibility of doing this. It could not be implemented. There was the effective projection of the food and language issues (remember the state was on the boil with the anti-Hindi agitation in 1965?). The major strategy of Rajaji to unite all anti-Congress parties prevented splitting of votes among opposition parties. The DMK won an absolute majority.
Thus started the reign of freebies with an over-emphasis on welfare that cut into development funding.
The range and quantum have been increasing...
This proven strategy has continued for close to fifty years. The DMK, and from 1977 the AIADMK, have been vying with each other in the offer of freebies: slum tenements in the elections of 1971. Free midday meal scheme for school children during the reign of AIADMK - 1977 to 1989. Free power for agriculture in 1989. The range and quantum recorded continuous increase in the race for one-upmanship. If DMK offered free TVs, AIADMK would follow up with free mixies, grinders and fans. If the DMK offered rice at Rs 2 per kg, AIADMK would offer 20 kg free for ration card holders. And in its current regime, AIADMK introduced the Amma Canteens that offered highly subsidised food in the towns administered by corporations (The canteens offer stomach full food for Rs 10 and less).
We present highlights of such offers by some of the political parties that have been announced in the election platform. The manifesto of AIADMK has not been released yet.
...and it is legal!
The Supreme Court would not consider such offer of freebies as unlawful. There was the direction for political parties to explain how the cost of such schemes would be provided. With the growing size of revenues of states, this had not been a problem. But then the allotments are to be made at the cost of funds required for development of infrastructure, education, health…
The more serious malaise relates to the lavish spend by parties as cash for votes. Successive election commissioners have been voicing serious concern over political parties at Tamil Nadu brazenly distributing cash to buy votes. With all major parties engaged in this, there has been no serious effort to reform the electoral process through suitable legislation. Many suggestions made by the Election Commission on electoral reforms do not receive attention at the hands of the legislators. Sadly one doesn’t see much change in the present system. –SV