It’s raining freebies for voters in Tamil Nadu
By Neha Arha
With assembly elections in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu approaching, the trend of expecting something free in return for casting your vote is catching up fast. It is raining freebies in the state and this time it is not just colour television sets or liquor but also laptops for college students.
Beating incumbent chief minister M. Karunanidhi, her arch rival in the state, AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa has promised four grams of gold to poor voters, in addition to cable TV connections at subsidised rates.
Not lagging behind in the race, national parties like the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, while condemning state parties for what they term “bribing voters”, have offered stationery to students, sanitary napkins to women and 100,000 rupees ($2,260) deposit for female children born in a below-poverty-line family as poll promises in a bid to mark its presence in the state.
Such promises appear to contravene the Indian Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct of bribing voters.
The DMK’s poll promise of providing a laptop to the state’s college students may cost over 10 billion rupees ($226 million), the Hindu reported on Thursday.
The Election Commission, The Hindu reported, issued an instruction to the newspaper agents and hawkers to not violate the poll code by distributing money, gift coupons as newspaper inserts. In a state with comparatively high literacy rates, hawkers are a convenient vehicle for propagating and disbursing ‘freebies’ to each and every household.
“These are part of welfare programmes run by the state government. For example, the promise of giving 30,000 rupees ($680) for a daughter’s wedding is basically applicable to those families which make sure their daughters clear matriculation at least. It contributes to women’s empowerment in ways that a lot of programmes may not,” Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi’s daughter, was reported as saying in the Financial Express on Wednesday.
Loopholes in the model code of conduct, using semantics and playing between ‘promise’ and ‘promise to consider’ have emerged as the best defence for the competing political parties who have been showering freebies to gain an edge over each other.
As the nation awaits the outcome of the polls, voters in Tamil Nadu are gearing up to lap up the showers of freebies. But, considering the WikiLeaks’ expose over cash for votes led to calls for the resignation of the Prime Minister, should the DMK, AIADMK and BJP have reasons to fear?