The whole big bouquet of revadis, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls them, that the Karnataka Congress offered, does not seem to have surpassed anything that Kejriwal may have done thus far to get ahead in elections
FOR ONCE, Arvind Kejriwal may be right. Speaking in Uttar Pradesh the other day, the Aam Aadmi Party boss accused Congress of stealing his signature election playback. That is, simply put, promising freebies to lure voters. But the whole big bouquet of revadis, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls them, that the Karnataka Congress offered, does not seem to have surpassed anything that Kejriwal may have done thus far to get ahead in elections. Quite apart from the five much talked about “guarantees” of 200 units of free power, 10kg of free rice; ₹2,000 monthly cash dole to every woman head of a family, ₹3,000 monthly payment to jobless graduates, and ₹1,500 to diploma holders, and, of course, unlimited free travel for women on state buses, there are a number of others which may explain the party’s spectacular win in the state. For, despite a clear and visible anti-incumbency, rank factionalism, and uninspiring state leadership, BJP retained its vote share of 36 per cent. But where it found itself pipped was the 5 per cent accretion in the Congress vote, from the 38 per cent in 2018 to 42 per cent in 2023. Which is better explained by the lure of freebies. And these were on offer to almost every section of voters. Quite apart from the above five “guarantees” as Rahul Gandhi repeatedly reiterated on the stump, there were others that barely attracted media notice. These, in a nutshell, were: ₹5,000 fixed monthly salary for ASHA or community health workers in rural areas; additional ₹5,000 monthly allowance for policemen on night duty, apart from an extra month’s salary; additional ₹2,400 to ₹3,500 monthly payment to mid-day meal cooks and Anganwadi workers. There are about one lakh policemen in the state, while the Anganwadi workers number about 65,000. By a rough estimate, the annual bill for implementing Rahul Gandhi’s five guarantees comes to about ₹50,000 crore. As for the annual outgo on the other election-time lollipops, we await a knowledgeable economist to do the sum. But what we can say with certainty is that despite being a relatively well-off state with a per capita income higher than the national average, Karnataka’s GDP has still not kept pace with the growth in the fortunes of DK Shivakumar. The Pradesh Congress chief, and now deputy chief minister and a constant thorn in the side of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, has reportedly seen his assets grow from a modest ₹7 crore in 2004 to ₹1,413.78 crore in 2023. Why, between the last Assembly polls in 2018 and now, he reported a growth of 70 per cent in his assets, up from ₹840.8 crore to ₹1,413.78 crore in the latest election affidavit. Meanwhile, one shudders to think what Congress and other parties would promise in the coming polls in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh. For, having tasted success in Karnataka through the freebie route, the temptation to go down that financially ruinous path would be greater in the Hindi belt where BJP is better entrenched. Unless sanity prevails, and our politicians shun reckless populism, we may be staring at financial bankruptcy of more states with no penny left for education, healthcare, or public infrastructure.
IT IS ALWAYS challenging to write an authoritative biography of a contemporary figure when several of the subject’s peers may still be around and events in his life are fresh in public memory. Yet, overcoming these caveats, Abhishek Choudhary has done an excellent job researching the life and times of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right (1924-1977), offers an insight into the socio-political conditions which first led to the birth of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and, after Partition, to its most prominent offshoot, the Jana Sangh-BJP. Vajpayee’s life was co-terminus with the growth of the Jana Sangh-BJP from a fringe group in and outside Parliament to its ascent to Delhi’s gaddi back in the late-1990s. If you want to understand the layered relationships at the highest echelons in the Sangh Parivar, you can do no better than read this masterpiece of a biography of one of the greatest leaders of independent India. For someone who has followed the Sangh Parivar closely, and Vajpayee particularly, some of the facts mentioned even surprised me. We eagerly await the second part, which will obviously consider the period when Vajpayee became the first full-term non-Congress prime minister.