A Brief History Of Freebie Promises In Tamil Nadu: Why DMK’s Stalin Is Promising Rs 1000/Month For Women

by Sam Govindarajan - Mar 8, 2021 05:22 PM +05:30 IST
A Brief History Of Freebie Promises In Tamil Nadu: Why DMK’s Stalin Is Promising Rs 1000/Month For WomenTamil Nadu’s freebie culture. 
Snapshot
  • Tamil Nadu legislative assembly elections have always been notorious for the sort of freebies being announced by parties, especially since 2006.

To be fair to the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and its leader MK Stalin, there were seven major themes covered in the party's vision statement released yesterday in the run to the elections next month. These themes included providing potable water, improving farm incomes, better urban facilities and so on.

But the single most (electorally) impactful one and the one that would receive most media coverage would be the promise of a cash entitlement of Rs 1000 every month to every woman household head.

With nearly 1.8 crore ration cards entitled for subsidised rice and other supplies, the promise translates to an expense of about Rs 1,800 crores every month - i.e approximately Rs 21,600 crores every year.

There is already some noise about how MK Stalin will find the money to pay for all this, especially when the total revenues of Tamil Nadu state government stand at just a little more than Rs 2.2 lakh crores. With the revenue deficit projected at Rs 21,000 crores, this household woman's monthly income scheme neatly doubles the deficit. (See data)

Once again, to be fair to MK Stalin his opponent has already announced a slew of doles including crop loan waivers, women's self-help group loan waivers and even gold loans waivers.

So, would he now respond with more doles? Most analysts say the incumbent Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy (EPS) was only waiting for Stalin to reveal his cards and that the CM will respond with something significantly better if not the same.

Tamil Nadu legislative assembly elections have always been notorious for the sort of freebies being announced by parties. In 2006, the DMK created quite a flutter when it promised to give each household a colour television. It also promised to sell rice at Rs 2 per kilogram at public distribution shops (PDS/ration shops) for the poor.

When other parties pooh-poohed the promise, the then DMK leader Karunanidhi responded that his first signature when assuming office would be for the order to launch the freebies he promised.

The DMK alliance swept the elections by winning nearly 70 per cent of the seats.

Things escalated in the 2011 elections with the ADMK also entering the freebie battle. A badly bruised ADMK had chosen to respond in kind.

So, when the DMK promised either a mixie or a grinder if they won the 2011 elections, the ADMK said it would offer both!

When Karunanidhi said every college-going student would be given a free laptop computer if DMK was voted to power, Jayalalithaa said she'd do the same, except she'd also do it for high school students.

Four sets of school uniform, footwear, 20 kg of free rice every month were also promised.

Looking to skewer her opponent's strength in the cable television distribution business, Jayalalithaa even promised free cable TV connections - the extended DMK family had a near monopoly in this business until then. The promises worked for Jayalalithaa and she was voted to power in 2011.

The DMK being forced to innovate even harder promised milk at very subsidised rates (Rs 7/litre) during the 2016 elections but Jayalalithaa had the edge. She promised farm loan waivers, 100 units of free electricity, 50 per cent subsidy for women to buy two wheelers, one sovereign gold for women awaiting marriage and so on. The battle, as you already know, was won by Jayalalithaa.

Given this history, there is no way EPS will not respond to Stalin's announcements of Sunday. The only question is how innovative he can get even while having to worry about budgets.

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