BJP-ruled Assam’s scooter scheme goes against ‘revdi culture’ which Modi shunned

Besides the fact that not only BJP-ruled states, but the Centre itself copiously dishes out freebies despite Modi’s call against it, experts say the Prime Minister should understand that what he called ‘revdi’ was fundamental for the inclusive economic growth of the country

Scooter for “sakhis” under the ASRLM is also not the only welfare scheme, infamously dubbed freebies or revdi by the prime minister, being run by the Assam government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign to shun “revdi culture” got a pushback in the BJP-ruled Assam with Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma distributing scooters to “women community cadres” on Sunday.

The two-wheelers were given to 6,670 community cadres called “sakhis” under the Assam State Rural Livelihood Mission (ASRLM) for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The grand dole-out ceremony held at Guwahati’s Sankardev Kalakshetra Auditorium once again showed that the BJP is equally, if not more, afflicted by the “revdi culture” the prime minister is campaigning against.

Modi, while inaugurating Bundelkhand Expressway at Jalaun in Uttar Pradesh last month, used the north Indian sweet, which is often distributed during festivals, as a metaphor for freebies given by political parties ostensibly to win elections.

Though Modi did not take any name, it was clear from his speech that the target of his attack was opposition parties, whom he had referred to as “they”.

Also read: Time for parties to replace ‘revdi culture’ with sturdy economic policies

The prime minister had said those who believe in ‘revdi culture’ think “they can buy people” by distributing freebies.

“We (the BJP) are focused on fulfilling people’s aspirations by building new roads and rail routes”, he had claimed, stating that the ‘revdi culture’ was very dangerous for the development of the country.

His remark, as expected, led to a political debate on “populism” between the BJP and the Opposition. It finally turned into a legal battle with the Supreme Court admitting a PIL seeking to end the “irrational freebies” by BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.

The Centre has argued before the top court that freebies affect the fiscal health of a country.

The scooter distribution ceremony by the Assam government coming just after a month of the prime minister triggering the debate, however, showed the political significance of the culture that even a BJP-ruled state could not ignore its allurement despite Modi’s call to shun it.

It’s not the first time that the Assam government distributed such “freebies.”  In the 2020-21 financial year, a total of 4,238 scooters were distributed to the “sakhis’ under the ASRLM.

Scooter for “sakhis” under the ASRLM is also not the only welfare scheme, infamously dubbed freebies or revdi by the prime minister, being run by the Assam government.

Among others, it has been running a very popular scheme called Arunodoi since 2020. It provides financial assistance of ₹1,000 per month to a female member of a family through direct benefit transfer (DBT). Around 19.10 lakh families of the state are the beneficiaries of the scheme.

Incidentally, when the Trinamool Congress (TMC) launched a similar scheme called Lakshmi Bhandar in West Bengal 2021, the BJP leaders of the state were quick to dismiss it as “freebies.”

Assam is also not the only BJP-ruled state which has introduced such populist schemes. The BJP government in Uttarakhand provides 100 units of free electricity every month to domestic consumers even as the BJP never misses an opportunity to flay Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP government in Delhi for similar free electricity and water schemes.

The BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh is among India’s top three states along with Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal in terms of their budgetary allocation for welfare schemes, according to a RBI study.

Only for power tariff subsidy to farmers, the central Indian state in May this year allotted ₹16,424 crore.

When it comes to “revdi culture”, even Modi’s own government is not unaffected.

“The Centre is the biggest giver of freebies for political leverage,” chief economic adviser to the West Bengal government Amit Mitra told media.

Also read: Modi’s critique of ‘Opposition freebies’ unfair, he needs to turn gaze inward

The former West Bengal finance minister stated that what Modi was calling “revdi” was fundamental for the inclusive economic growth of the country.

The Assam chief minister, while distributing the two-wheelers, expressed confidence that the “sakhis” who had been presented with scooters would work dedicatedly towards “mobilizing and motivating” members of self-help groups towards achieving financial “self-sufficiency and independence.”

This statement from the BJP’s rising star from northeast is only an oblique endorsement of Mitra’s observation about the necessity of the so-called freebies for inclusive growth.