Gone are the days of grain subsidy giveaways. In the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, voters in this week’s elections are more likely to walk away with a free cable connection and a small flock of sheep.
Warring political parties in southern India have upped the ante, promising supporters significant government-financed freebies if victorious in the April 13 state assembly poll. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the incumbent party led by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, has said that it will offer, among other things, laptop computers to students, homes to slum dwellers, insurance programs to fishermen and bus passes and color television sets to those over 60.
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But its primary rival, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, headed by former actress J. Jayalalithaa, will not so easily be outdone. The party will deal out fans, blenders and grinders to housewives, gold for traditional wedding necklaces to brides-to-be, cable T.V. connections and, to every impoverished family, four sheep.
The handouts are pleasing to all but shop owners, who have been seeing far less business as political figures guarantee voters a host of gadgets. Ariya Palani, the owner of an electronics outlet called “Beautiful Store,” tells the Wall Street Journal that television sales have plummeted over the last few years. “If the government is giving them away, why would anyone buy from a store?” he protests. In the 2006 state elections, DMK for the first time pledged to give Tamil Nadu residents free color televisions and has since delivered over 16 million sets. The TVs—which have cost, so far, $827 million, according to the state’s interim budget—were doled out in the name of “women’s recreation and general knowledge.”
Indian politicians have long used handouts to gain support. But the lists of giveaways on offer are growing longer and far more impressive. And while it is illegal to trade gifts for votes, both parties are adamant that what they are guaranteeing are, in fact, welfare programs. Neither has been charged with bribing voters. “People need these welfare schemes,” Kanimozhi, Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s daughter, tells Bloomberg. “Election promises are made all over the world.” For these sizable pledges, though, taxpayers are looking at an equally hefty bill. (via WSJ)
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