Indian political leaders use various populist methods to garner votes from citizens; freebies being the most pursued method. Any free goods or services the government offers citizens is a government freebie. It includes a scheme designed to benefit a section of society. The trend of freebies has gained more velocity in recent times. The state parties have been giving away smartphones, accessible electricity units, free public transport rides, and irrelevant gift hampers to attract prospective voters. This culture is often called “Muftkhori” or “Muft-Uphari” in Hindi.
There should be a clear differentiation between the welfare schemes and the freebies. The term freebies is a broader concept. It cannot be confined, as welfare is different for all the sections of the society. Offering bicycles to the poor may be a welfare scheme for the upliftment of their standard of living, and a freebie to the upper middle class to garner votes.
Focusing on skill development rather than providing freebies to the poor and needy would ensure their upliftment. Ensuring that providing them with services doesn’t result in laziness or them becoming entirely dependent on the politicians.
It is not about how cheap the freebies are but how expensive they are for the economy.
The culture feels like competitive bidding that offers subsidies and freebies, with powers of unplanned promises and unnecessary expenditure. The freebies are not incorporated into the budget proposals, draining the public spending of the states. Hence, this results in a heavy burden on the financial health of states because of limited resources.
Consequences of freebies
Parties must offer equity to a state and equal opportunities for all. States with comparatively lower levels of development have a significant population living in poverty; thus, welfare schemes could help uplift the lower strata. It differs from equality. Equity focuses on having the same standard of living for all the people in the state, whereas equality provides the same benefits to both the affluent and underprivileged. Equality doesn’t reduce differences across society’s lower and upper sections. Introducing welfare schemes can offer equity. The foundation of the welfare schemes meets the constitutional obligations (Directive Principles of State Policy), which serve citizens through free vaccinations, public distribution systems, and higher job opportunities.
Educating and bringing awareness to the citizens can help them differentiate between the trend of irrational freebies and welfare schemes. Thus, a clear differentiation should be made between welfare schemes/subsidies and freebies.
Mansi Chopra is Research Intern, CPPR
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.