There is a limit to everything. But, in a democracy, politicians tend to forget that. Freebie politics is also one of them. It was on expected lines that the majority of politicians would do away with it and so, Supreme Court has stepped in and is on a mission to destroy freebie politics.
Expert body on freebie politics
The Apex Court of India wants an expert body to look into political, social, legal and most importantly economic aspects of freebie politics culture. To make it inclusive, a 3 Judge-Bench suggested including stakeholders like Niti Aayog, Finance Commission, Law Commission, Reserve Bank of India and members of ruling and opposition parties in the body. The Bench is headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Hima Kohli.
The respected Chief Justice is also of the view that political parties would not be willing to take the issue head-on. He cited their own freebies’ commitments as a reason for the same. When Kapil Sibal suggested that Parliament should discuss the issue, Chief Justice said, “Mr. Sibal, do you think there will be a debate in the Parliament? Which political party would debate? No political party would oppose freebies. These days everyone wants freebies.”
Sri Lanka is a wake-up call
Freebies are not a new phenomenon, but the issue became Centerpoint of nationwide discussions after the Sri Lankan economy went downhill. Part of the reason for the crisis goes to their freebie politics culture as well. Sri Lankan government went ahead with fulfilling its electoral promises which led to rating agencies downgrading the country’s ratings, leading to a fall in investments.
Though overall India is in a healthier state, the situation is grim in some states. Due to schemes such as free electricity, monthly mandatory payment to particular identity groups, free bus rides, free scooters, free laptops, free television and unemployment payment among others, various states are in massive debt.
Freebie Politics – Debt-crisis is deep
At the top of the debt chart is Arvind Kejriwal’s Punjab. Successive state governments continued providing incentives to people to remain unproductive, due to which its debt-to-GSDP ratio was at 49.1% in FY21. AAP government did not help the cause by winning elections on the back of freebies announcements.
Apart from Punjab, states like Rajasthan, and West Bengal are also key culprits. The aggregate debt of states broke the 15-year record of 31.3% of GDP in FY21 and is approximately at the same level in FY22. As per the respective budget estimates, “States with the highest debt-GSDP ratio in FY22 are Punjab (53.3%), Rajasthan (39.8%), West Bengal (38.8%), Kerala (38.3%) and Andhra Pradesh (37.6%). All these states receive revenue deficit grants from the Centre.”
Relation between the Welfare state and envy
The main reason behind these draconian numbers is the hunger for power. In 1947, the welfare state was the need of the hour as the average life expectancy was in the early 30s. People needed state support to survive and get out of the clutches of poverty.
However, a few decades later, politicians started to champion the cause of relative poverty. Inspired by Marxist revenge doctrine, they told people that their freebies will bring them on par with their richer neighbours.
Socialism has failed
Naturally, people are more envious of their neighbour’s success than they are happy about their own. They voted in large numbers and by-products of the JP movement grabbed more and more votes in the name of the poor. Meanwhile, people could not focus on capacity building while these socialist leaders went from riding a bicycle to using aircraft for bringing leftover sandals.
The court was right in its assessment that politicians won’t be able to correct it. The good thing is that, unlike politicians, the Apex Court did not use it to increase its own power. Almost every key component of our polity brainstorming on the issue is certain to bring desired results.
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