Freebie Culture

  • IASbaba
  • October 30, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-2: Elections
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Freebie Culture

Context: The line between welfarism and populism has blurred.

Welfare initiatives include a targeted Public Distribution System, providing social security for labourers, quality education, fair employment, affordable healthcare, decent housing, and protection from exploitation and violence. 

Freebies, on the other hand, are provided to attract voters to cast their vote in a particular election. They create limited private benefit for the receiver and do not contribute towards strengthening public goods/facilities.

How did the freebie culture originate?

  • The culture of freebies in Tamil Nadu was started during the 1967 Assembly elections. The then DMK chief C.N. Annadurai offered three measures of rice for ₹1. 
  • The practice of providing freebies was followed by subsequent Chief Ministers who promised free TV sets, free laptops to students, free rides for women in buses, free gas cylinders and stoves, a goat and a cow for poor farmers, and so on. 
  • Political leaders have justified freebies citing social justice as it aids those at the bottom of the pyramid.

What are the criticisms of Freebie Culture?

  • Creates Private Benefits: Freebies violate the constitutional mandate of extending benefits for public purpose and instead create private benefits. The main beneficiaries of the freebies provided by government were the ruling party’s core supporters and swing voters who could be influenced easily. 
  • Depoliticises Poor: Freebies will not only depoliticise the poor and marginalised communities but also indirectly deny them their due share of state resources. 
  • Erases Rational Thinking: Freebie encourage personality cults in a democratic polity. Populism encourages mediocre political critics and erases critical and rational thinking, which are important to raise questions to people in power.
  • Patron-Client Syndrome: Unsolicited freebies cultivate a patron-client syndrome. Providing freebies is to treat people like subjects, whereas citizens are entitled to constitutional guarantees.
    • Clientelism is a political or social system based on the relation of client to patron with the client giving political support to a patron (as in the form of votes) in exchange for some special privilege or benefit (freebies).
  • Against Welfare Politics: Welfare initiatives are an embodiment of civil rights, whereas unsolicited freebies show benevolence at best and apathy at worst towards the poor by the ruling parties.
  • Doesn’t enhance Productivity: It was observed that distributing free laptops does not serve the purpose of increasing the quality of education. Also, free electricity, free water, farm loan waivers, etc. have not contributed to increased productivity.
  • Fiscal Burden: Freebies imposes burden on the state’s financial status contributing to huge fiscal debt.
  • Vulnerable to Corruption: Freebies culture paves way to corrupt practice because of the involvement of middle man.
  • Not Sustainable in Long Run: The social, political and economic consequences of freebies are very short-lived in nature. Also, they cannot be provided free forever, at some point these goods have to be rationalised.

What was the judicary’s view on the freebie culture?

  • The Supreme Court gave a ruling in favour of offering of freebies stating that freebies are not corrupt practice as it is mentioned in election manifesto.
  • In S. Subramaniam Balaji v. Govt. of Tamil Nadu (2013), the court said that “Although, promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of Representation of People Act, the distribution of freebies influences the people shaking the root of free and fair elections.”
  • In 2021, The Madras High Court expressed its strong displeasure over the way in which political parties were competing with each other to garner votes by offering freebies.

Connecting the dots:

  • Electoral Reforms
  • Representation of People’s Act, 1951

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