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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to caution last month to people against “revdi culture” or the culture of doling out freebies – at times in exchange of votes – may have been an attempt to project the Bharatiya Janata Party as a party that believed in economic pragmatism, but it has actually come to hurt the saffron party.
While two main opponents of the BJP from the Hindi belt – the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress – have since promised free electricity and various pensions in the poll-bound states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the saffron party leaders in these states have been left rubbing their hands in despair.
Will Modi’s call against freebies boomerang on BJP?
The reference by the PM to the seasonal sweet ‘revdi’, which is often distributed for free during festivals, was made as a warning to the youth – to not get swayed by any kind of largesse. His target were opposition parties as he said: “Adherents of this culture will never build expressways or airports. Defeat this thinking, remove this culture from the politics of the country.” He had also termed this a dangerous trend.
Modi’s assertion was met with a strong repartee from AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who accused the government of “only working and helping a select few.”
He also defended the culture of providing free water and power that was started by his party saying, “When you provide undue benefits to some corporates, forgive thousands of crores in loans of your friends, or use a foreign trip as an excuse to settle contracts for them with foreign governments, then it is ‘revdi’.”
Kejriwal said supporting people in acquiring education and health did not constitute revdi culture. “It is not so when we provide free quality schooling to 18 lakh poor and middle-class children, get 99% results and have four lakh children leaving private schools for government ones. Some splurge on buying airplanes, and I save to make bus travel free for women,” he said.
AAP began promising free water, power from 2013 Delhi polls
AAP, which thwarted an attempt by the BJP to form a government in Delhi in 2013 when it formed the government with Congress support, has been ruling Delhi for the last seven years. This year it also wrested control of Punjab, where it dislodged the Congress government.
In every state election, AAP has been promising free power to the citizens up to a certain number of units – usually 300. In the assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Uttarakhand earlier this year it made similar promises. And now these have been repeated in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Taking a cue from AAP, the Congress – which has already lost Delhi and Punjab to it – has now adopted a similar strategy.
Earlier this week, the grand old party promised people in Himachal Pradesh that it would provide 300 units of free electricity to household consumers if voted to power. Besides this it also promised financial assistance of Rs 1,500 per month to all women aged between 18 and 60 years. It also announced that the old pension scheme will be restored if it returned to power.
Free electricity in Himachal Pradesh
Incidentally, the AAP had made a similar promise of providing 300 units of free power in Himachal Pradesh back in April this year when former Delhi minister Satyendra Jain was the state party in-charge. At the time of making the announcement, Jain had asked why, if the Union government could provide 400-500 units of free electricity to ministers, the AAP government cannot provide 300 units of free electricity to the general public. Jain was later arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in a corruption case and the party had then nominated Sandeep Pathak as the state co-incharge.
With the AAP breathing down its neck and posing a stiff challenge it in one state after another, the Congress does not want to lose it control over Himachal Pradesh – which like neighbouring Uttarakhand has always only chosen between the Congress and the BJP. The Congress has therefore employed its might in these polls and made Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel its senior election observer for Himachal Pradesh.
The announcement of 300 units of free electricity was made by Baghel who also stated that the Congress would also set aside Rs 680 crore to promote start-ups as a means of promoting employment and would ensure that five lakh jobs were created in the state.
BJP too had promised free electricity ahead of Uttarakhand polls
As for the BJP, its leadership in the state has been struggling to find ways of retaining the hold over the electorate after the promises made by AAP and Congress. For his part, CM Jai Ram Thakur had started providing 125 units of free electricity to household consumers from July 1. But after Modi’s call, the party has not been able to announce free power as an election promise.
It would be pertinent to recall here that ahead of the assembly polls in Uttarakhand, the BJP had promised free electricity as well. Its then state power minister Harak Singh Rawat had in July 2021 declared that the party would start providing 300 units of free electricity on returning to power.
“In the present situation, no government will be able to provide 300 units of free electricity to the people of Uttarakhand. But we promise that in next three-four years, we can provide free electricity to farmers as well as other people of Uttarakhand,” was his exact quote.
AAP says those terming welfare measures as ‘freebies’ are ‘traitors’
Meanwhile, AAP is not relenting on its attacks on the Union government for helping BJP’s near and dear ones. During his recent visit to Gujarat, Kejriwal made an oblique reference to the BJP leadership spending government funds in supporting its “friends” in business through grants, subsidies and contracts. He said if AAP would be elected in the state then the money would not be spent on “families and friends” but on education, employment and health.
75 साल में देश “परिवारवाद” और “#दोस्तवाद” की वजह से पीछे रह गया
हमें प्रण लेना है कि अब सरकारी पैसा परिवार और दोस्तों पर ख़र्च नहीं किया जाएगा
सरकारी पैसा शिक्षा, रोज़गार, चिकित्सा पर ख़र्च किया जाए। अब देश में सिर्फ़ “भारतवाद” होगा
— Aam Aadmi Party Delhi (@AAPDelhi) August 9, 2022
The AAP leader had earlier also slammed attempts to term free government welfare services as freebies.
“There are some people who call the provision of free education, free treatment by government facilities as ‘revdi’ or ‘freebies’. An atmosphere is being created in the country against provisions of free education at government schools and free treatment at government hospitals,” Kejriwal had said. He added that those who oppose such welfare measures should be seen as “traitors”.
AAP has also opposed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court that sought directions against freebies.
The apex court had earlier this month sought suggestions from petitioners and respondents on the composition of a panel that could look into the matter “dispassionately”.