The Congress has taken a page out of Aam Aadmi Party’s book and promised free electricity to every household in Himachal Pradesh ahead of assembly elections in the state. The party also announced financial assistance to the tune of Rs 1,500 per month to women between the ages of 18 and 60 if voted to power.
The announcements — made by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel who is also Congress’s senior election observer for the state — comes amid a nationwide debate on freebies.
The debate started weeks after Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP won a stupendous victory in Punjab. Amid their promises for the state were free power and water as the party has implemented in Delhi, besides the promise of a huge upgrade in the health and education sectors.
In Gujarat, another state where elections are due later this year, AAP has promised jobs to all within five years — and till then, an allowance for the unemployed.
The BJP had come up with severe criticism of about the freebies offered. At a rally in Jharkhand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that such promises stand in the way of development, diverting money needed for infrastructure and other sectors to secure the political future of parties.
AAP, furious, has argued that it is corruption and not freebies that lead to financial ruin of a state. Slamming the BJP over waiving debts “worth Rs 10 lakh crore” to “friends”, Mr Kejriwal said the true benefactors of the state’s largesse should be the people.
“What’s wrong with providing free water, free education?” Mr Kejriwal said at a recent online briefing. “These people waived off loans of Rs 10 lakh crore of their friends. Such people should be called traitors and investigation carried out against them,” he added.
The Centre, he said, should provide free education and healthcare to every citizen. The aged people should receive a pension and the unemployed, an allowance from the government.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court said promising freebies during election campaigns is a “serious economic issue” and said there is a need for a body to examine the issue.
“All stakeholders who want the freebies and who are opposing it, including RBI, NITI Aayog, opposition parties have to be involved in this process of making some constructive suggestion,” said a bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli.