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How PM Modi’s sweet analogy triggered a bitter freebie debate

Is it a device just to get votes, or a welfare measure: the two sides of a conversation leading up to EC order today

Speaking at Kaitheri in Jalaun district after inaugurating the Bundelkhand Expressway, PM Modi targeted political opponents and accused them of promising freebies in exchange for votes, saying it is “very dangerous” for the country, its development and well-being. (File)

The Election Commission Tuesday suggested that political parties making election promises should provide authentic information to the voters to assess the financial viability of their promises. It plans to soon float a consultation paper which proposes that parties detail the cost of promises made ahead of polls and to compare them to the state of their finances to give voters an idea about how these could be financed.

Whether freebies constitute welfare or are a tool for votes has been at the front and centre of the political discourse since this July, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the same as “revdis”, and said voters didn’t want them.

Modi talks of ‘revdi culture’, July

Speaking at Kaitheri in Jalaun district after inaugurating the Bundelkhand Expressway, PM Modi targeted political opponents and accused them of promising freebies in exchange for votes, saying it is “very dangerous” for the country, its development and well-being.

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“Today, in our country, attempts are being made to collect votes by distributing free revdis (freebies). This revdi culture is very dangerous for the development of the country. People of the country, especially the youth, need to be careful of this revdi culture. People of revdi culture will not build expressways, airports or defence corridors for you,” he said.

“They feel that by distributing free revdis to people, they can buy them. Together we need to defeat this thinking of theirs. The revdi culture needs to be removed from the country’s politics. Away from the revdi culture, we are living up to the expectations of people.”

Again, on August 10, inaugurating a second-generation (2G) ethanol plant in Panipat in Haryana via video-conferencing, on World Biofuel Day, Modi said, “If there is selfishness in politics, then anyone can come and announce they will give free petrol and diesel. Such steps take away the rights of our children, and prevent the country from becoming self-reliant. Due to such selfish policies, the burden on honest taxpayers also increases… To deal with the challenges the country is facing… needs clear intentions and commitment. It requires extreme hard work, policy and huge investments.”

Oppn weighs in

Among the first ones to react was Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who said, “There are allegations being made against me that Kejriwal is distributing free revdis, he’s distributing freebies… I’m giving free and quality education to the children of poor and middle-class households in Delhi. I want to ask people, am I distributing free revdis or setting the foundation of the country?”

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Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot spoke about the issue on Independence Day during the state’s flag hoisting ceremony: “Public welfare is the top priority of the state government. Weekly payment is made to the poor and elderly in developed countries. Everyone has the right to live,” he said, adding: “It is the responsibility of a government to implement public welfare schemes.”

BJP leaders join in

On August 23, speaking at an event on the book “Modi@20: Dreams Meet Delivery”, BJP president Nadda cited welfare programmes launched by the Modi government since 2014 and said they have benefited society.

“Not distributing freebies but true empowerment has always been his goal. He has always spoken of empowerment,” Nadda said.

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At a press conference in New Delhi on August 12, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra similarly said the welfare measures of the Centre and the “politics of freebies”, were different. “Freebies are not meant for the poor. These are aimed at grabbing power. Freebies have no long-term benefits. It has only one short-term benefit and that is to get power in the hands of Arvind Kejriwal. It is a bait to trap people to fulfil the ambitions of Kejriwal and AAP,” Patra told reporters.

BJP spokesperson R P Singh was next to attack the AAP convenor, saying: “Kejriwal has perfected a model which is about freebies for the certain media and allied ecosystem. Unbridled spends on only ads and ads and nothing else. This is what allows @ArvindKejriwal to blatantly lie in full public glare knowing media won’t expose him.”

In Gujarat in September, as part of a series of rallies in time for the coming polls, Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya said: “It is certain that the youth of Gujarat have resolved this time round to speed up the development march of Gujarat which had begun around 30 years ago. It is also quite certain that the youth of Gujarat will not give an inch of the pious land of Gujarat to ‘revdi’ politics and ‘bevdi’ politics.”

BJP on freebies back in the day

Back in May 2016, while addressing an election rally in Mylapore in Chennai, then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “”The two parties (DMK and AIADMK) give doles and freebies and according to a report since 2006 they have spent Rs 11,600 crore for this exercise… For how long will this culture of freebies continue?” he asked. He added that the BJP, in contrast, had “the vision and conviction to take the state on the path of development”.

Supreme Court on the matter

On August 23, hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay seeking action against political parties for promising freebies during elections, former Chief Justice of India N V Ramana highlighted the need to differentiate between a promise made by a politician as a ‘freebie’ and a ‘welfare scheme’. The Opposition, the Congress and the DMK, among others, kept up their attack on the BJP saying aid to the poor could not be termed “revdi”.

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The AAP and DMK separately approached the top court to oppose the PIL filed by Upadhyay.

On August 26, the Supreme Court referred petitions seeking a ban on the freebies to a three-judge Bench, which it said would look into the top court’s 2013 judgement in S Subramaniam Balaji vs State case of Tamil Nadu over the issue. The apex court is still hearing the freebies petition.

(With inputs from agencies)

First published on: 05-10-2022 at 09:25:00 am
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