Tamil Nadu

Emptying the coffers in bid to lure voters

Distribution of free items shakes the root of free and fair elections, the Supreme Court has observed.— File Photo  

It began in 2006 with an offer of rice at Rs. 2 per kg. Subsequently, the knockout punch came in the form of free television sets. Anti-incumbency aside, these promises played a role in ensuring the DMK won comfortably that Assembly election.

Come election time, such ‘offers’ keep pouring in. From television sets and cable TV to wet grinders and fans, voters in the State have been lured with it all. While cash, liquor and biriyani are still used as part of a “standard practice” to attract voters, Tamil Nadu became known nationally as the ‘freebie State’ beginning 2006.

A couple of weeks back, former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami said that Tamil Nadu was the only State where politicians made the voters corrupt. Unmindful of the fiscal position, the DMK and the AIADMK have indulged in a game of one-upmanship in the past decade while doling out freebies.

Between 2006 and 2011, the two governments have spent nearly Rs.15,000 crore on providing free stuff. The State’s revenue deficit currently is a whopping Rs. 9,154 crore.

In 2006, DMK president M. Karunanidhi, in a largely populist manifesto, announced a slew of freebies to the voters. His announcement of providing rice at Rs.2 per kg sent the Opposition scurrying, and AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa announced a counter offer of 10 kg free rice while the then new comer DMDK’s Vijayakant promised 15 kgs.

Two years later, the DMK brought down its offer to Rs.1 per kg. In 2011, it followed it up with a promise to provide either a free mixer or a grinder. Ms. Jayalalithaa further offered free mixer, grinder and fan for all the households. “It is not ‘either/or’; a beneficiary will get all the three,” she said. She also promised free laptops to students, four grams of gold, in addition to Rs. 25,000 as marriage assistance for women in low income households. The DMK too had promised to provide free laptops to college students. In 2011, Ms. Jayalalithaa promised the roll out of Arasu Cable, and interestingly, free cable connection for the public.

The free television scheme cost the exchequer over Rs. 4,000 crore while Ms. Jayalalithaa’s free grinders, mixies and fans cost Rs.7,755 crores, while the free laptop scheme set the State’s finances further back by Rs.4,300 crore.

Free electricity for farmers and weavers, bus passes for senior citizens, housing subsidy, free drinking water were among the list of promises made by both the parties in the past elections.

The Supreme Court in 2013, while directing the Election Commission to frame guidelines to bring election manifestos under the Model Code of Conduct said that “the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of RP Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.”

A former State Chief Electoral Officer said while distribution of money was prevalent in Karnataka and Kerala too, it was rampant here in Tamil Nadu.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 5:19:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/tn-elections-emptying-the-coffers-in-bid-to-lure-voters/article8484843.ece

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