Sharada M, an Adidravidar (scheduled caste) in Tippalam village in Krishnagiri’s Hosur, got her daughter married two years ago. She expected the AIADMK government to give the four grams of gold and ₹50,000 cash assistance promised to the economically weaker section of society under the Thalliku Thangam Thittam scheme. However, even after spending at least ₹7,000 on bribe to various officials, there’s no sign of the promised ‘freebie’, she says. Similar is the situation related to the grant of free mobile phones to all ration cardholders in the district.
Nisarga N, a student from Uddanapalli, Hosur, is about to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Application. But she’s yet to receive the free laptop that was promised to class 12 students in the AIADMK poll manifesto in 2016. With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting school and college lessons to the online platform, Nisaga says the laptop, if given on time, could have helped her a lot.
Ellammal Munisamy, 70, a widow in Krishnagiri’s JJ Nagar, desperately awaits her old age pension, a monthly financial assistance of ₹1,000, since the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa in December 2016. As a poll promise, the AIADMK-led government had started the old-age pension scheme in 2011 and extended it in 2016.
“At this age, I can’t even go to MGNERGA work and earn. So, pension money is the only source of income for me. As it stopped, I now struggle for two meals a day,” she rues.
Voters not enticed anymore
While some of the promises of the AIADMK like the crop loan waiver and free electricity (100 units) were fulfilled, and freebies like mixers, grinders, fans, and laptops resulted in a high pitched battle in the past, the voters this time, particularly the young in the age group of 18-30 and senior citizens, are not swayed by these promises anymore. They now view these measures as deceit by political parties and express scepticism about the freebies.
Many of the promises made in the 2016 manifesto, if translated into benefits, could have helped people during the COVID-19 crisis. But they remained unfulfilled and much to the dismay of the voters, the AIADMK has now made a series of new promises ahead of the state Assembly polls. So has their rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
People ask why couldn’t the government do it when the AIADMK was in power and why are they doing it now to appease the voters. The mood resonates across four of the six assembly constituencies –Hosur, Krishnagiri (town), Bargur and Veppanapalli – in Krishnagiri district.
“I spent nearly 3 lakh on my daughter’s marriage. I was expecting that the government’s Thalliku Thangam (gold for marriage) scheme would reduce my financial burden to an extent. But that didn’t happen,” Sharada says. “So why should I believe their promises anymore?”
Sharada says she filed the application four times in two years to claim the said benefit. Every time she has to walk about 2 km to access the nearest bus station to reach the taluk office and file the application. Though her village is just 15 km from the Bangalore border, it remains cut off from basic amenities.
Who promises the bigger package?
The DMK while releasing its manifesto for the 2021 assembly polls announced ₹1,000 per month to women heading the family and ₹100 subsidy on gas cylinders. The very next day, the incumbent AIADMK said it would offer ₹1,500 per month to women running a family and six cooking gas cylinders free every year.
In addition to that, the AIADMK also promised to provide free washing machine, solar cooker, and free cable connection to all ration card holders. The DMK announced tablets/ PCs with 4G connections and 10 GB of data to every school student, while the AIADMK offered 2 GB a day of data to every college student. It also announced to waive various loans.
People say they have come to realise that the AIADMK’s manifesto promises (2021) – government job to one person in every house, free washing machine and proposal to request Centre to reconsider implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act – are certainly not going to work.
“We don’t need false promises of government jobs or free washing machines which we may not even use. Let the government create an environment for industries to thrive and we will find jobs,” says Prem Kumar, a 26-year-old diploma holder.
Kumar who has failed to find a job in the automobile or electronics sector, now works as a daily wage labourer in a granite unit.
Toll on state coffers
The freebies announced in the manifestos of both the leading parties for the 2021 Assembly election, also raises questions about the impact these promises will leave on the state’s finances. The revised estimates for FY-21 indicate that the fiscal deficit is expected to widen to ₹96,889.97 crore, about 4.99 per cent of the gross state domestic product (GSDP).
The Election Commission, in fact, in 2016 had censured the ruling AIADMK for violating the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct, stating that its manifesto gave no rationale to meet the financial requirement for the promises such as free distribution of washing machines.
The EC also asked the opposition DMK to be “more circumspect” and adhere to the provisions of Model Code of Conduct.
While the promises made in the manifesto are not legally binding, the Supreme Court had directed the EC to frame guidelines to say the trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled.
Psephologist Sandeep Shastri says there is empirical evidence to show that the poll promises made in the last year in office and rhetorical promises made in the manifesto, if not fulfilled when in power, are bound to affect the winning chances of the ruling party.
“Unlike other states, freebies play differently in Tamil Nadu. People are now used to it and they accept gifts from different sources (parties). However, they decide who to vote based on caste, leadership and other local factors,” Shastri adds.