In election season, political parties have started offering economically unsustainable freebies to woo voters.

Uttar Pradesh has always been a tough contest. This assembly election will also be a referendum of sorts on the Modi government, which faces its next poll challenge in 2024.

Political parties issue manifestos prior to elections, promising many things. Politicians seek votes from citizens by telling them that if they are elected to power, their party will fulfil the election promises. Time and again it has been seen that these freebies or promises remain an Akash Kusum for the voters.

Taking a leaf out of populist schemes from the south, political parties in the Hindi heartland too have left no stones unturned in promising sops and handouts to woo voters as the nail-biting political slugfest this year poses unprecedented challenges to each player in the fray.

Samajwadi Party: 

Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh is far ahead of others in promises.

                                

Addressing an election rally in Rae Bareli, Akhilesh promised:

  • To provide a kilo of ‘ghee’ to the poor and free ration for five years if the SP returns to power.
  • Taking a leaf out of Arvind Kejriwal’s go-to book of sops and has promised power if he comes to power. He said that his government will provide 300 units of free domestic electricity and free power for irrigation.
  • The poor, who are availing their rations, will get mustard oil. 
  • The poor will also get two cylinders in a year.
  • He promised free medical treatment and the old-age pension tripled. 
  • He declared that we will give Rs 25 lakh compensation (each) to the farmers who died during the farmers’ agitation and build a memorial to them. 
  • Also, those cyclists who die in road accidents will get Rs 5 lakh (each) and 
  • the same amount to those who die in bull attacks. 
  • We will assure employment,” he reportedly said on Saturday.
  • He promising a 33 per cent reservation to women in government jobs. 
  • On promises made to farmers, Akhilesh Yadav said, “Minimum support price will be provided to all crops and payment to sugarcane farmers will be ensured within 15 days. For this, farmers’ corpus fund will be created if needed.”

Not just Akhilesh, but his ally Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Chaudhury has also announced:

  • One crore job with a 50 per cent reservation for women.

 

The Grand Old Party, Congress too is not far behind:

  • Party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has offered
  • That power bills would be cut by half if Congress is voted to power. 
  • She promises of smartphones and e-scooters to girl’s students at the school and college levels respectively. 
  • Congress has also promised to increase the MSP of paddy and wheat by Rs 2400 per quintal.
  • She assured that sugarcane rates would be increased to Rs 400 and farm loans will be waived.

However, no one can beat Arvind Kejriwal at his own game. The power sops are how he rode to power in Delhi, and his party plans to emulate the formula in UP also.

AAP has promised:

  • 300 units of free electricity to all domestic consumers and 
  • A waiver of the outstanding bills of 38 lakh families.

While these are the promises of those who hope to come to power, those already in power and hoping to retain it have a lot more to offer. 

BJP:

CM Yogi Adityanath has been toying with the idea of emulating PM Modi’s national-level sop last year and is contemplating a free ration distribution scheme till March for cardholders. The officials have been asked to look into the economics of it and draft a proposal at the earliest.

                            

  • The Adityanath government has already implemented the cash bonanzas schemes in various departments. 
  • 1.5 crore migrant workers have reportedly received Rs 1000 each as maintenance allowance in their bank accounts. 
  • PM Modi has already transferred Rs 1000 crore for SHGs targeting around 16 lakh women in the state and 
  • The CM has announced a hike in the additional honorarium to Anganwadi workers in rural areas.
  • The BJP has already started distributing tablets along with smartphones to one crore students since last week in the state. 

The parties have realised the power of women-votes and are pulling all stops to woo them. The ruling party is leaving nothing to chance and has promised almost everything the opposition parties have to the fairer sex. If Priyanka promised smartphones, Adityanath promised free scootys for meritorious girls, tablets and smartphones.

However, the Million Dollar question is how effective are these freebies for voters? Promise of freebies in polls a ‘serious issue’, asserts SC. Economically speaking, there are no freebies because there is someone paying for it, and it eventually catches up with the public in the form of taxes. It is also fiscally disastrous. However, the freebie model gets votes—it was tried and tested by former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha who offered free rice, wet grinders, laptops and so on. 

Promises are all fine, but Akhilesh forgets history when his father Mulayam Singh Yadav had to move sky and earth to fulfil his pre-poll promise of unemployment allowance of Rs 1000 during his regime in 2003. And even then, he could manage it only in 2006 after massive cuts in expenditure and diverting funds for other projects.

Delhi’s GSDP for 2020-21, at Rs 7,98,310 crore, is 4 per cent lower than its GSDP for 2019-20. Expenditure, at Rs 69,000 crore in 2021-22, is at nearly a 16 per cent increase from 2019-20. The fiscal deficit for 2020-21 came at Rs 12,491 crore—nearly twice the budget estimate of Rs 5,080 crore.

According to the Reserve Bank of India, the combined fiscal deficit of all the states rose from 1.93 per cent of gross state domestic product in 2011-12 to 3.5 per cent in 2016-17, over the three per cent threshold required to be maintained under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. 

Uttar Pradesh’s debt is expected to rise to Rs 8.1 lakh crore for FY 2021-22 (UP is among the top two states with the highest debt levels). 

In 2015, its debt burden was about Rs 2.5 lakh crore. According to a report by CRISIL, most states are in precarious debt situations, which will constrain their ability to spend on capital expenditure. While it is fair to point out that the pandemic has damaged balance sheets across the country, so have the lofty promises made by political parties at the polls. Some years on, the damage manifests in a host of problems—bad roads, bleeding discoms, poor public infrastructure, and at some point, higher taxes.