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RELEVANCE TO UPSC SYLLABUS: GS 2: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE: IRRATIONAL FREEBIES, FREEBIES AND ITS IMPLICATION ON ECONOMY; ELECTORAL REFORMS
The ongoing assembly elections in five states are seen as a prelude to the general election expected in the first half of 2024. Competitive populism seems to have replaced communalism in these campaigns. Whether its ruling party or opposition, India’s political landscape stuck with the dilemma of populist policies, which may end up shifting the country from reforms to retrogression.
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- Polling has concluded in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram while campaigning is peaking in Rajasthan and Telangana, which will vote on November 25 and 30, 2023.
- Competitive populism has been the defining theme of campaigning so far, and attempts at communal polarisation have been relatively understated.
- The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, the main contestants in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, have sought to outdo each other in promising a widening array of welfare schemes.
- In Telangana, the Congress, which is mounting a serious challenge to incumbent Bharat Rashtra Samithi, has promised to expand the State’s saturated welfare regime even further.
- Incumbents in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress and the BJP, respectively, have relied on new welfare architectures to fight for another term.
- Tribal voters have received special attention from the BJP and the Congress. Prime Minister launched a ₹24,000-crore PM Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan for last-mile welfare scheme delivery and protection for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. Congress and BJP have both claimed a better track record in delivering on election promises they make.
WHAT IS COMPETITIVE POPULISM?
- Competitive populism is the idea of framing the policies and campaigns by the political parties that focuses more on the individual problem rather than the country as a whole.
- The thrust is majorly on promising schemes for the poor, senior citizens, women and children, patients, farmers, the homeless and differently-abled people, pensioners and home makers.
- This results in the implementation of short term plans and lack proper outcomes, resulting in the wastage of financial resources.
ISSUES WITH COMPETITIVE POPULISM
Financial issues: Competitive populism raise questions about welfare schemes without specifying details about resource mobilisation. Example: Loan waiver schemes for farmers cause big relief from farmers’ perspective but cause huge problems in Indian economy by widening the fiscal deficit. Many of our states are deep in debt. The national average of liabilities of states is as high as 31% of their total GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product).This creates a financial situation that is untenable in the long run.
Temporary solutions: Competitive populism among political parties offers in the run up to elections are just temporary solutions. It does not address structural changes needed to sustainable development.
Loss of trust of people: Competitive populism causes the loss of trust and confidence of people on Government thus affecting the mechanism of good governance in India at all levels of administration.
Centralisation of power: This competitive populism leads to centralisation of power, not just institutionally but also within the Party. It implies that the voter is increasingly likely to attribute the delivery of economic benefits to one leader rather than the party as a whole.
THE WAY FORWARD
Empowering Election Commission of India: ECI should be provided more powers to regulate and monitor the announcement of freebies by political parties during elections. This would include giving the ECI more powers to de-register parties, impose penalties on violation of model code of conduct.
Voter awareness: There is a need for educating voters about the economic and social consequences of freebies and false promises. This can be done by creating awareness campaigns to empower voters to make rational and ethical choices.
Right approach for welfare schemes: Welfare schemes can result in more equitable development outcomes, but a more thoughtful and researched approach would be healthier for public finances.
Capacity creation: There is a need for skill development rather than providing unemployment allowances that will further breed an aversion to work. There is need of building social infrastructure such as rural schools and public healthcare over vote catching vows that are seldom fulfilled.
With the campaign going for competitive populism, the impact of these promises on the economy would be vast. In this condition, there is a need to focus on inclusive development that would create a more conducive environment for economic growth and social progress rather than freebies.
PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTION
Q. In what way could the replacement of price subsidy with direct benefit Transfer (DBT) change the scenario of subsidies in India? Discuss. (2015)
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTIONS
- Regular electioneering forces parties to indulge in competitive populism to differentiate themselves and attract voters. Can simultaneous elections help in overcoming this challenge? Argue.
- Critically examine the socio-economic implications of competitive populism which is a recent phenomenon devised by political parties to attract voters.
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