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Shun freebie promises, BJP tells state units after Modi’s ‘revadi culture’ jibe at opposition

At a meeting in April, top civil servants had warned Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the drain on state resources caused by freebies.

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New Delhi: Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit out at opposition parties for offering freebies to get votes, the BJP has told its state units to refrain from announcing “short-term freebies” in their election manifestos. The freebies, state units have been told, burden the exchequer and may lead to financial disaster for the states.

At a meeting in April, top civil servants had warned the PM of the drain on resources caused by such measures, citing the possibility of a Sri Lanka-like crisis emerging in some of these states.

Sources in the BJP told ThePrint that there was a growing consensus within the party to discourage the culture of distributing freebies, and instead focus on bringing about transformational change in the lives of people and making long-term impact by creating jobs or improving infrastructure.

Modi, while inaugurating the Bundelkhand Expressway in Uttar Pradesh earlier this month, had warned people against the “revadi culture” of offering freebies for votes, and also said that the practice was “very dangerous” for the country.

Revadi, a popular north Indian sweet, was the metaphor used by Modi to refer to freebies offered by parties.

Those indulging in “revadi culture”, he said, will never make new expressways, airports and defence corridors.

This was not the first time that the Prime Minister raised this point.

Although Modi did not take any names at the Bundelkhand Expressway inauguration, the jibe against free sops was understood to be targeted against opposition parties, especially the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has not only twice defeated the BJP in the Delhi assembly elections, but also managed to form the government in Punjab earlier this year.

Free water and electricity is a common promise made by the AAP and the party, has also promised 300 units of free electricity to all domestic consumers in Gujarat if it wins the state elections scheduled to be held later this year. Gujarat is a traditional BJP stronghold.

Explaining the reason for the PM’s comments, a BJP insider said “the AAP has got success in Delhi and Punjab by using free education, electricity and water as a poll plank”.

“Since the AAP is a new party, people were swayed by the success of its Delhi model (where it had introduced these). Now the AAP is offering such promises in every state where it is taking over the Congress, but it can (also) dent the BJP (votebank),” the insider added.

“Now, in Gujarat, the BJP is facing such a threat. That is the reason the PM attacked Kejriwal on ‘revadi culture’. The AAP is replicating the BJP’s success by offering several schemes for different sections of society by direct bank transfers.”

Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal responded to Modi’s attack on freebies culture by stating, “We are not distributing freebies but laying the foundation of the country by providing free education, healthcare… free education, healthcare are not freebies, waiving loans of friends is ‘free ki revdi (freebies)’.”

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States take stand against sops

Sources in the BJP said the welfare schemes offered by the Modi government weren’t the same as freebies offered in some opposition-led states.

The PM Ujjwala scheme (for providing LPG connections to women below the poverty line) or Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme (for income support to farmers) can’t be compared to promises for free electricity or providing free scooties (made by other parties), said one BJP source.

“These schemes (the Centre’s) are creating transformational change in the lives of the poor. They are creating assets. Short-term measures are draining the finance of states. We have made such promises in the past, but now there is consensus emerging that we should resist from announcing such schemes that don’t help the poor in the long run or create any assets,” said the source. “If there is a necessity of announcing such schemes, they can be given in instalments by taking some fees.”

Ahead of this year’s assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP, in a bid to counter the Samajwadi Party (SP), announced that it will give away free scooties to college-going girls, free electricity to farmers for five years, and two free LPG cylinders to beneficiaries under the Ujjwala scheme, on the occasion of Holi and Diwali. It had also announced free travel on state buses for the elderly.

Party sources said, apart from the attack on opposition parties, another reason for the PM’s stand against free sops is the recognition of the drain on the exchequer.

According to government data, even the Centre’s scheme of providing 5 kg foodgrains every month to about 80 crore poor people under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna (announced at the onset of the Covid pandemic) is costing the government Rs 13,000 crore/month.

In the past two years alone, more than Rs 3 lakh crore has been spent on this scheme, according to government estimates. Sources said the PM may be preparing the nation to not extend the benefits beyond September.

“We will not discontinue several (existing) social schemes, but we will make people aware of the differences between good subsidy and bad subsidy. The party will make this differentiation by not offering such freebies in the poll manifesto,” said a party leader. “We will devise ways to make people’s lives better by providing meaningful subsidy.”

Himachal Pradesh BJP chief Suresh Kumar Kashyap said “every state fixes its priority for its people… but there is no denying the fact that there is consensus in the party that we should desist from making such announcements in manifesto, which is not good for people in the long run”. “Rather we will focus on such commitments that will create jobs, skill, infrastructure in state,” he added.

In BJP-governed Himachal Pradesh — which goes to the polls later this year — the party has announced various sops.

At a function in April, Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur announced 125 units of free electricity to consumers (at an estimated cost of Rs 250 crore to the exchequer), waiver on water bills in rural areas, and 50 per cent discount on travel fare on state buses.

Speaking to ThePrint, Gujarat BJP vice-president Janak Bhai Patel spoke of the need to “educate people about how such promises can ruin states”.

“When Kejriwal made promise of 300 free electricity units, we can also offer such promises. We are in government, but our president said such promises will dent Gujarat’s prosperity and make Gujarat like Sri Lanka,” he added.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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