UPSC PRELIMS 2020: Freebie model of governance

Topic: Freebie model of governance

Topic in Syllabus: Indian Polity

Context:

The expanding role of freebies in Indian Politics in the last decade has become an intriguing question in the Indian political economy. Freebies have become a strategy to attract voters nowadays. The Election Commission, earlier 2019, has revealed an analytical emphasis on the distribution of freebies and attractions to voters by almost all the political parties.

 

What is the freebie model of governance?

  • Freebies are the things that are promised by the political parties in their manifestos of the election to provide for free to the people.
  • Freebies cover a wide range of goods as well as services like bicycles, laptops, smartphones, TV sets, waivers on water and electricity bills etc.

The freebies can be classified into: 

  • The manifesto issued by a political party before the elections and
  • Government going forward and bringing schemes related to freebies.

 

Background:

  • In 1967, the DMK was the first party in the country to announce in its state assembly manifesto, few measures like rice at Re 1 (at a time when the country was facing a severe food shortages), fostered by the anti-Hindi agitation two years earlier and thus had dislodged the Congress permanently from power in the state.
  • Tamil Nadu government was the first to introduce freebies to the Indian politics in 2006 and also succeed in it. The DMK had promised and started the freebie services in the form of free television sets and LPG connections to people below the poverty line.
  • These freebies were challenged in Supreme Court and the election commission was then directed by the SC to revise the code of conduct and lay down some guidelines.
  • Many states like Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan in recent elections are seen following this freebie model of governance.

 

Rationale behind the ‘freebie model of governance’:

  • Judicial Viewpoint:The distribution of freebies was earlier challenged before the Madras High Court as well as the Supreme Court in Subramaniam Balaji vs State of Tamil Nadu.
  • Supreme Court’s Judgement in 2013: As argued by the Supreme Court earlier, distribution of freebies of any kind undoubtedly influences the people, affects the level-playing field and obstruct the ‘free and fair elections’ in the democracy.
  • Not included in RPA Act, 1951:But the SC explained that the law has excluded the promises made in an election manifesto to be construed as a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • It also stated that the schemes do not violate Article 14 of public purpose and reasonable classification as it is in the realm of fulfilling the DPSP’s.
  • SC’s direction to the EC:The Supreme Court had also directed the EC to frame guidelines in consultation with all recognised parties.
  • Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, defines ‘bribery’, including gifts, offers or promises by a candidate or his election agents or by any other person that has the effect of inducing a voter to vote for him.
  • The SC also differentiated the subsidy by the Government and the freebies in the election manifesto, stating that, if the Government, through its election manifestos, wants to give free service to needy people, it must make sure that the money riding off will come from somewhere else.
  • But now a days, all political parties are indulging in freebie in some way or other. For example, Delhi Government’s recent announcement of free power, free water and free bus services for women. 
  • The idea of freebies came up in the last ten years to India as a result of the lack of confidence of the ruling political party in its governance.

 

Is the ‘freebie model of governance’ sustainable enough?

Although the Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, does not include promises made in the election manifesto under ‘corrupt practices’, the distribution of freebies of any kind undoubtedly influences the voter and affects the level-playing field, violating the ‘free and fair’ election processes. 

  • Practices such as freebies underestimate not only the electoral judgment of voters but also the election process, the political system and parliamentary democracy.
  • The freebie model allows the Government with excuses for its governance and policies over a period, thus neglecting incumbent government’s actual work.
  • Freebies by the ruling Government in the form of granting loan waivers, subsidies and distributing articles free of cost make the fiscal deficit of unsustainable.
  • It may not only raise the debt to GDP ratio of the State, but also eventually take it to bankruptcy.
  • Such an unfair political economy may also lead to electing an undeserving candidate to the House of State.
  • These practices may also bring a culture of short-sightedness to the voter, caring more about living in the present at the cost of an uncertain future.
  • Also to the side of political parties, the freebies model cannot give any guarantee to the political party to win the elections.

 

Challenges posed by the freebie model to Indian democracy:

  • Undermining the powers of the EC: It undermines the powers of the Election Commission using many loopholes like,
    • Disclosing the election manifestos before the declaration of elections by the EC.
    • Undefined freebies and promised manifestos.
    • Disturbing the free and fair election process of the Election Commission
  • No legal basis to the freebie model: There is no legality to the promises made by the political parties. They are neither construed under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, nor is there any process to get these freebies promises fulfilled.
  • Upper hand to the ruling Government:The ruling Government will always get an upper hand the freebie model of governance with ample resources and machineries to fulfil their promises. It can announce subsidies, new policies or schemes withstanding the loopholes of election processes.
  • Reduced responsibility of Government:It also reduces the responsibility of government to act in a good governance manner.

 

Conclusion:

  • The freebie model of governance is thus an unhealthy practice on account of taxpayer’s money which is not appreciated by many voters.
  • The model is neither sustainable nor economically viable as it causes a great fiscal burden and raises the debt to GDP ratio of the Country.
  • It also undermines the democratic feature of free and fair elections in the country.
  • The Election Commission of India needs to revise the Model Code of Conduct as guided by the Supreme Court.
  • After all the onus of rooting out or control the freebie model of governance lies on everyone from voters to opposition parties as well as ruling government.

 

Sample Question:

Plural Theory of Sovereignty emphasises the importance of
A) State

B) Religion
C) Individual
D) Associations

Answer: d)