Ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu is intent on overcoming the trust deficit by offering voters everyting from free power and subsidised scooters to unlimited wi-fi and interest free loans.

Ever since the DMK made a promise in its 2006 manifesto to hand out colour television sets to all, and proceeded to deliver on it after being voted to power, freebies have been an integral part of the manifestos of all parties in serious contention for power in the State. In 2011, the AIADMK promised fans, mixers and grinders, and promptly gave them away over the next five years.

Subsidies and freebies are not necessarily bad; they can play an important role in social welfare if aligned to government policy. Tamil Nadu, under the AIADMK’s first Chief Minister, M.G. Ramachandran, was the pioneer in introducing the noon-meal scheme in schools, which increased enrolment and reduced dropout rates. Ms. Jayalalithaa, during her earlier term between 2001 and 2006, gave away free bicycles to schoolgirls, which again slowed down the alarming dropout rate among girls in schools in rural areas. Free rice under the Public Distribution System was another major initiative that eased the lives of people living below the poverty line.

Problem with distribution of Freebies

  1. Many of the freebies are not targeted to reach only the poorer sections. TVs and fans were giveaways meant as little more than post-election gifts-for-votes at state expense, and they diverted resources from essential services and development programmes.
  2. Competitive populism has the result of hindering important social welfare measures, and investment in infrastructure development over the long term.
  3. keeping promises is the easy part. Doing so without affecting investment in critical areas such as health, education and infrastructure, is what is truly difficult.