Congress supporters celebrate early leads for the party in the state elections, May 13, 2023 (Photo: AP)
With the Congress party securing a resounding win in Karnataka, several economists and policy wonks feel the triumph would spark fierce competition among political parties to offer freebies to pull in votes ahead of crucial state assembly elections due this year and in early 2024 in the run-up to the General Election.
While these concerns over economic prudence typically get drowned amidst loud sound bites over political gains, some of the economists within governments, both in the states and the Centre, are concerned about the price of populism and how it invariably burns a hole in a state’s purse.
“Victories of this sort won on lollies are not good news, especially at a time when we have seen such political decisions getting tempered and governmental decisions getting an upper hand. The trend is likely to reverse,” one of them said, asking not to be named.
The Congress party won by a landslide in Karnataka majorly on the back of a manifesto stacked with freebies. Ahead of the poll on May 10, the party released the manifesto titled ‘Sarva Janangada Shanthiya Thota’ with much aplomb. It offered five guarantees to people in the name of Gruha Jyoth Gruha Jyothi, Gruha Lakshmi, Anna Bhagya, Yuva Nidhi and Shakti. Congress President Mallikrjun Kharge went on to add, “I am giving the sixth guarantee that these guarantees will surely be implemented in the first cabinet meeting on the first day of the government formation.”
The Gruha Jyoti Yojane scheme promises 200 units of electricity, free of cost, to every household in the state. Under the Gruha Lakshmi programme, each housewife in the state will be paid Rs 2,000 per month, covering over 1.5 crore housewives. The Anna Bhagya scheme envisages providing free rice of up to 10kg for below-poverty-line families in the state. Yuva Nidhi is meant to fight unemployment: thanks to this project, unemployed youth with Bachelor’s degrees will be paid Rs 3,000 per month for two years. It will also pay Rs 1,500 per month as an allowance for unemployed young people with a diploma.
The Congress, meanwhile, had also announced that it would enhance the quota in government jobs and educational institutions for SCs, STs, OBCs and others from 50% to 75% apart from restoring the 4% quota for Muslims. The Congress said in the manifesto that it will increase the quota for SCs from 15% to 17%, for STs from 3% to 7% and hike reservations for Lingayats and Vokkaligas and other communities. The manifesto also promised ₹2 in subsidy on each litre of milk procured by Nandini Co-operative, which collects milk from its members most of whom are farmers.
Elections are due this year in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram, and Telangana. In Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim, assembly elections will take place around the time of the general elections of 2024.
“Rampant populism is an expensive exercise,” says one of the economists surveyed by Open, adding, “Look at the plight of Punjab due to this mad rush for votes. The same is the lesson to learn from Himachal Pradesh.”