Context: This topic is important for UPSC GS Paper 2 and Essay.
In a democratic setup state undertakes welfare measures as a matter of civil rights to its citizens .But the rising freebies culture cultivate a patron-client syndrome and jeopardise free and fair election in the country.
Today’s political parties resort to unsolicited freebies to attract the voters. The line between welfarism and populism has blurred.
Welfare initiatives include a targeted Public Distribution System, providing social security for labourers, quality education, fair employment, affordable healthcare, decent housing, and protection from exploitation and violence.
Freebies, on the other hand, are provided to attract voters to cast their vote in a particular election. They create limited private benefit for the receiver and do not contribute towards strengthening public goods/facilities.
A freebie culture- Tamil Nadu Example
The culture of freebies in Tamil Nadu was started during the 1967 Assembly elections. The then Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief offered three measures of rice for ?1.
The practice of providing freebies was followed by subsequent Chief Ministers of both the DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), who promised free TV sets, free laptops to students, free rides for women in buses, free gas cylinders and stoves, a goat and a cow for poor farmers, and so on.
Impact of Freebies Culture
No direct benefit in creation of social infrastructure
distributing laptops does not serve the purpose of increasing the quality of education. According to a report by ‘Anaivarukkum Kalvi Iyakkam’ (Sarva Siksha Abhiyan) in 2019,
Due to lack of proper infrastructure facilities and specialised teachers, . According to a report in this newspaper in 2019, more than 1,500 hostels for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) were in a dilapidated condition.
Paucity of funds to the public school, deteriorates quality education leading to rising inequality between public and private school students.
Impacts the civil rights of poor and marginalised
Freebies not only depoliticise the poor and marginalised communities but also indirectly deny them their due share of state resources.
Tamil Nadu’s 2021-22 Budget shows that it has allocated around 13.3% of its total expenditure for education, which is lower than average allocation for education by all States, which is 15.8%.
Populism encourages mediocre political critics and erases critical and rational thinking, which are important to raise pertinent questions to people in power.
Freebies drastically widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
It promotes Inequality and exclusion
Compared to other States, Tamil Nadu has made impressive strides in many development indicators such as education, healthcare (mortality rate and life expectancy) and infrastructure facilities. However, it lags behind in other aspects. According to the Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Department’s publication, ‘Salient Statistics on Agriculture’, 2019, SCs, who constitute nearly 20% of Tamil Nadu’s population, accounted for 10% of agricultural landowners and possessed 7.8% of the farmland in the State.
Even though the literacy rate is high in Tamil Nadu, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 (2015-16), only 32% of women aged 15-49 had completed 12 or more years of schooling, compared with 38% of men.
The NFHS-4 showed sharp differences between SCs and Other Backward Classes in Tamil Nadu. The neonatal mortality was 12.3% for OBCs, but 17.4% for SCs. Infant mortality was 18.4% for OBCs but 23.6% for SCs. And under-five mortality was 24.8% for OBCs and 31% for SCs. The data reflect inequal access to public health infrastructure.
According to a paper by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, ‘Explaining the contractualisation of India’s workforce’ (2019), the share of contract workers in Tamil Nadu increased sharply from 8.3% in 2000-01 to 20.17% in 2013-14, which shows the withdrawal of the state in providing social security, and leaving the workforce at the mercy of neoliberal market forces.
Theoretically, there is a qualitative distinction between being subjects in an authoritarian regime and being citizens in a democratic polity. Unsolicited freebies cultivate a patron-client syndrome and encourage personality cults in a democratic polity.
Besides, they affect the critical faculties of citizens, particularly the poor and the marginalised. Providing freebies is to treat people like subjects, whereas citizens are entitled to constitutional guarantees.
Welfare initiatives are an embodiment of civil rights, whereas unsolicited freebies show benevolence at best and apathy at worst towards the poor by the ruling parties. Moreover electoral reforms making regulation over freebies must be mooted.