Populist schemes? It might have started in Tamil Nadu

April 11th, 2009 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, April 11 (IANS) If political outfits need winning manifestoes, they should simply take a leaf out of the book of Tamil Nadu parties. Be it cheap rice, free colour TVs, cash doles or farm loan waiver, many a popular scheme has its roots in the state.

The politics of cheap rice was first played out in 1967 when DMK founder C.N. Annadurai promised “three measures” (around 4.5 kg) of rice for Re.1 through the state public distribution system (PDS).

After winning elections, Annadurai became the chief minister and implemented the scheme for sometime in a few pockets but later scrapped it owing to the financial burden.

In the run up to the 2006 assembly elections, the DMK announced free colour televisions; rice at Rs.2 per kg (once in power this was reduced to Re.1 a kg); two acres of land for the landless; free gas stoves and Rs.300 cash doles for the unemployed; maternity assistance of Rs.1,000 for all poor women for six months; as well as free power to weavers.

In its fiscal year 2009-10 budget, Tamil Nadu has allocated Rs.2.79 billion for supply of free power to farmers and Rs.12.51 billion towards free electricity connections to huts and places of worship and subsidised connections for homes and local bodies; Rs.5 billion for free distribution of 2.5 million colour TV sets and Rs.1.4 billion for free gas stoves and connections.

AIADMK governments too have doled out many freebies to the poor - among them free cycles, chappals, saris and dhotis.

Seeing how such schemes fetched votes in Tamil Nadu, national and regional parties in states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and Chhattisgarh copied the cheap rice and free power promises.

In the Lok Sabha elections starting April 16, the Congress has promised rice or wheat up to 25 kg a month at Rs.3 a kg to families officially designated to be living below the poverty line.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) success in the Chhattisgarh assembly elections last year was credited to a cheap rice scheme.

Even N. Chandrababu Naidu, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief and former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, has learnt the importance of freebies.

It has promised free colour television sets to the poor, Rs.2,000 to those below the poverty line, Rs.1,500 to the poor and Rs.1,000 to middle class families.

Curiously it is also from Tamil Nadu that a lawyer, S. Subramaniam Balaji, is crusading against freebies such as colour TVs and cash doles by political parties. He says these are nothing short of bribes.

After his complaints were dismissed by the Election Commission and the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, Balaji’s special leave petition was admitted by the Supreme Court last year.

However, not all such schemes from the state are faulted, prime among them being the mid-day meals for school students.

Way back in 1923, in the days of Madras Presidency, students in schools run by the Madras Corporation were provided noon meals. The major thrust for the midday meal scheme came under a Congress government in 1960 when K. Kamaraj was the chief minister.

The scheme was later expanded in 1982 by chief minister M.G. Ramachandran of AIADMK, generating a great amount of goodwill among the poor who sent their children to school at least to have one good meal a day.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

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