Freebies And More: Why Congress' Triumph In Karnataka Could Deal A Death Blow To Prudent Governance

Swarajya Staff

May 13, 2023, 01:03 PM | Updated 01:03 PM IST

Karnataka Congress
Karnataka Congress

The handsome victory of Congress party in Karnataka 2023 polls will be dissected in many ways in the coming weeks. One key element that will be studied would be the party's rather uninhibited habit of promising freebies.

In a bid to regain power, the opposition Congress unveiled four freebies (it calls its 'guarantees'). Even a cursory glance at these 'guarantees' and one can conclude that they will cause economic ruin for the state.

Under 'Griha Lakshmi' guarantee, the party has promised every woman head of the family will get a monthly cash dole of Rs 2,000.

Under the 'Yuva Nidhi' scheme, the party has promised that if voted to power in the state, it will provide an allowance of Rs 1,500 per month to every diploma holder for two years, while graduates will receive Rs 3,000 per month.

Under the 'Graha Jyoti' promise, Congress has promised that every family in the state will be provided 200 units of power for free.

The party added a fifth 'guarantee' with Rahul Gandhi announcing free bus travel for women in the state.

One conservative estimate put the cost of the free electricity and cash transfer to women heads of the family alone at a staggering Rs 56,000 crore.

The existing and promised subsidies for electricity alone would exceed the current Karnataka state's capital expenditure by a significant margin.

The voters of Karnataka have now handed the Congress party a clear mandate.  

Should the party and its allies attribute much of this success to its freebies promises, the party will only double down on the idea — there is no sign that the party has any qualms about the sheer recklessness of their economic agenda.

Even back in 2019, the Congress party and its then President Rahul Gandhi made the 'Nyay' scheme one of their main election planks. The scheme involved spending in the range of Rs 3 lakh crore every year.

Having tasted success in Karnataka, the freebie playbook is sure to be adopted in poll bound states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Chattisgarh later this year.

The BJP would be forced to follow suit to at-least so much as remain in the narrative against an aggressive Congress promising the moon.

None of this is good news for prudent governance at the state level where there is already a lot of economic disasters waiting to be cleaned up.

Consider the most favourite freebie after cash — electricity. The pace of debt addition by state electricity distribution companies has only just slowed down.

The money owed by such DISCOMs alone is more than Rs 6 lakh crore, 24 per cent of it was added in the last two years.

Free public transport for women, an idea initially championed by Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, has caught on and has now found a place in Karnataka and neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

This, while state transport companies are deep in debt without making sufficient investments in new buses or technological upgrades.

None of these schemes are likely to be temporary. As the famous economist Milton Freedman once said nothing is so permanent as a temporary government programme — these subsidies are likely to be the proverbial albatross around the neck of state government budgets for decades to come.

The scarier prospect is if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also convinces itself of the need to offer better freebies to sustain itself in the public election narrative.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unfortunately proven to be prescient.

"Today in our country, attempts are being made to collect votes by distributing free revdis (sweets)", he had said last year.

"This revdi culture is very dangerous for the development of the country. People of the country, especially the youth, need to be careful of this revdi culture".

"People of revdi culture will not build expressways, airports or defence corridors for you.", he had added.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of hope that the Congress will prove the Prime Minister wrong on this one.

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