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Rush headlong, it’s raining freebies

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T S Dhakshinamurthy
T S Dhakshinamurthyhttp://teeyesdee.blogspot.com
Retired banker.  As a youngster published poems in Youth Times, Mirror, Indian Express, Poetry Chronicle, Poesis etc. Translated modern Tamil poems into English for Sahithya Akademy's special edition on Tamil Poetry. Translated Ionesco's Rhinoceros from French to Tamil, published by CreA, Chennai. Served as a Volunteer with Sneha, Chennai Chapter of Samaritans International (non religious organisation for prevention of suicide and helping the lonely, depressed etc. Interests include art films, religion, politics, economics, rock music, cricket etc.

Public funding of private agenda–

Economist Shankar Iyer on freebies

He is a common person in the neighbourhood. Retired, pensioner, a 2 BHK flat, children settled, viewing trivia on TV in the evenings. When Rs.2000 was being distributed for votes in the last election, he gladly accepted it from both the contestants. Well, he said, they are not paying out of their pocket, only out of the loot they got from our own taxes. What’s wrong? Don’t be naïve, make clear to them how many of you have votes in the family.

Cut to 1960s

My father used to narrate this as a lesson to be imbibed. The watchman of our small colony, which was more of a grove, was poor, had difficulties in making ends meet. Then, the election bonanza was restricted to offering a bullock cart ride to the polling booth (one way only – not the return trip) and in cases of poor people like him packets of curd rice and sambar rice. He refused to accept any.

Why? He had two sound reasons. One is to accept anything gratis is akin to begging. Beneath his dignity. Second, according to the widely held belief then, if you take the salt of anyone, you are beholden to him for life.

What a degringolade, inversely proportional to our economic amelioration!

Instead of being ashamed to accept a dole, alms, voters now relish the imminence of each election, salivating about the gifts that await them. In the last by-election in Erode, Tamil Nadu, the freebees ranged from smart watches to silver anklets to Rs.5000 in cash to free trips to hill stations to film shows the whole day with choice food and tiffin thrown in, liquor said to be on tap.

Any surprise BJP lost the elections in Karnataka?

In the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, you can count on policy-bankrupt Congress and opposition to emulate the same strategy. It may be anything from free travel in trains for ladies (luckily Air India was privatized) to 5000 to each housewife in the country to 10000 to each farmer to 9 gas cylinders per household. Trust them get quite more innovative.

Lacking foresight, unable to visualize beyond the ensuing elections, the political parties have scant concern for the nation. Congress, with a hoary history, had to steal page from AAP’s book to bribe its way through to power.

In a video that went viral in social media, a Muslim declares with contempt: ‘these Hindus, you give them freebies, they will even wear purdah’.  Sadly true. Contempt well deserved. Any self-respecting Hindu would have felt like jumping into a well.

In HP BJP lost because it would not commit itself to restoring the fiscally disastrous old pension scheme

State assistance to targeted needy groups – like provision of toilets, cooking gas connections, potable water, direct cash transfer is unquestionable. It led to creation of tangible assets.

Now, what is at stake in 2024 needs hardly be emphasized. The prospects are frightful.

According to IMF prediction, the Japanese and German economies will grow to $5.2 trillion and $4.9 trillion each by 2027 while India is expected to grow to $5.4 trillion, at current prices. Rating agencies like S & P are excited about India.

India is a shining exception today in terms of economy. Unlike other countries, including developed ones, inflation is under control, GDP growth is the highest, fiscal prudence is well in place, availability of all household items is abundant, no empty shelves in supermarkets as was the case in the West in the recent past. Indian Railways has stepped into the 21st century. National highways are expanding at a fast clip. We have a record number of start-ups. Digital payment is par for the course. From push cart vendors to tea shops to flower sellers all accept digital payment, the QR code prominently displayed.

India, we realised, is far more capable and better organised than the advanced countries, when we had to deal with Covid 19. Not only did we develop our own vaccine, we exported it to other countries, we inoculated 100+ crore people. I first took the shot in Bangalore, second one at Chennai and the third at Pune. And I could get all the details of date, place and time of inoculation in my mobile instantly. Imagine this for such humongous population. Digital revolution touches each one personally.

India has a prominent place at the global high table. We are no longer being browbeaten and hectored to by the West without eliciting an appropriate repartee.

India is on the anvil of a giant leap. All these stupendous achievements will be undone in no time, we shall return to the hand to mouth socialist raj, status quo and even regress will be the norm, economy will backslide, when our voters are tempted with offers they cannot refuse. This unbridled dangling of carrot verges on economic hara-kiri.

This issue has already engendered discussion in sober circles. The objective of this article is, however, to open up for debate the legitimacy of extension of such freebees out of tax payers’ money.

Article 15 of the Constitution of India provides as follows:

Article 15 in The Constitution Of India 1949

15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth

(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to

(a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and palaces of public entertainment; or

(b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public

Now, no need to add the term sex here denotes gender obviously. There can be no discrimination among the population in terms of men and women.

Political parties base their alms and doles on the exception given in sub-proviso (3) ibid, reproduced below.

(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

Now, this proviso relied on by freebee champions is an integral part of Article 15, that prohibits discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, sex.

The special provision under proviso (3) can thus be applied and invoked only in special cases when sufficient protection against discrimination to women and children under Article 15 cannot be ensured. This is a special provision and cannot ordinarily be invoked. And the beneficiaries of this section should be deserving of such special treatment. It cannot under any circumstances deviate from the principal purport of Article 15 i.e. non-discrimination on the ground of gender and should be only for special reasons, on justifiable grounds. It has to be read in conjunction with Article 15.

Stretched reasoning? The conferment of right to use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads etc. stems from the social ethos prevalent in 1947. Times have changed significantly since then. They appear largely superfluous now. The Founding Fathers, for instance, did not feel the need to declare India a secular country, for protection against discrimination on grounds of religion addresses it adequately.

In 1971 the Republic became secular and socialist owing to political expediency. If the sanctity now attached to secularism were to be extended to its conjoined twin – socialism, the country’s economic, industrial policy may run afoul of Constitution. Leeway for practical interpretation, insertion in consonance with the times has thus been always in vogue.

The making of special provision was felt necessary as State patronage was needed for emancipation of women. Mid-day meals scheme for needy children in school eminently qualifies for this proviso.  When Kamaraj introduced this in Tamil Nadu, attendance in schools from poorer sections increased dramatically.

In any case, free bus, metro travel, free electricity, monthly doles irrespective of economic stratus, cannot be sheltered under this proviso, as special circumstances necessitating such State support should in the first place be palpably prevalent. The principle of prima intentio should, therefore, be accorded primacy here. 

In any case, this Special Provision is undoubtedly not meant to further the electoral prospects of political parties at public expense. Resources that could be utilized to provide, improve quality health care and education are squandered in a shameless hunt for votes.

In public travel by bus or metro, there is no discrimination whatsoever necessitating resort to this provision. Likewise, extension of monthly dole to housewives, (as CM of Karnataka said, to every woman, minister’s wife, bureaucrat’s wife and others in lower strata of society), is a discrimination against men.

In Delhi for instance, women earning around 1 lakh and more per month get to travel by metro free. No women organisations have ever complained of the unbearable burden of bus or metro fare. Nor pleaded for monthly doles.

Does it tell us something of our times that none of the otherwise combative, assertive, sensitive feminist groups has come forward and declared ‘we don’t need your doles, we have sufficient means by grace of God to pay for our fare, to pay our electricity bills, to take care of our wants. It’ s an insult to our dignity to accept gratuitous unsolicited favours’.

Targeting disadvantaged groups, sections in need of special treatment, uplifting of poor by free education, and the like, is of course quite acceptable.

Blanket, omnibus showering of freebees is but a plain bribe and when done out of tax payers’ money, abject, untenable and reprehensible. I wonder if invocation of this Proviso (3), except for cases deserving a special provision – the original import, stands legal scrutiny. This scourge of private profligacy out of public exchequer has to be extirpated for it has an inherent competitive need to augment the bribes each election to stay in contention.  Portents cannot be clearer that this way lies catastrophe.

It is imperative for us to have in place a comprehensive Act fixing responsibility on how tax payers’ money should be utilized for better governance and betterment of the society at large.

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T S Dhakshinamurthy
T S Dhakshinamurthyhttp://teeyesdee.blogspot.com
Retired banker.  As a youngster published poems in Youth Times, Mirror, Indian Express, Poetry Chronicle, Poesis etc. Translated modern Tamil poems into English for Sahithya Akademy's special edition on Tamil Poetry. Translated Ionesco's Rhinoceros from French to Tamil, published by CreA, Chennai. Served as a Volunteer with Sneha, Chennai Chapter of Samaritans International (non religious organisation for prevention of suicide and helping the lonely, depressed etc. Interests include art films, religion, politics, economics, rock music, cricket etc.
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