When Priyanka Gandhi Vadra last week announced a monthly dole for one crore school children in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, she added over Rs 10,000 crore to the state’s prospective annual freebies bill, swelling the worth of the Congress’s various promises to over Rs 50,000 crore.
Whoever wins Madhya Pradesh come December 3, the state will be burdened by a Rs 50,000-crore ‘Freebie Bill’.
The Congress has promised free electricity till unto 100 units of power and half price for the following 100 units, a Rs 1,500 monthly allowance for all women in the state, a return to the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) for government employees, and a gas cylinder at only Rs 500. The women’s allowance alone would cost Rs 24,000 crore a year. All this and the latest child allowance promise would stretch the Congress freebie bill to over Rs 50,000 crore.
The situation will not be any different if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retains power. Unlike other poll-bound states, the BJP under Shivraj Singh Chouhan has also rolled out freebies in Madhya Pradesh whose quantum could go beyond Rs 50,000 crore. The biggest scheme is the CM Ladli Behana Yojana, in which the payout to 1.32 crore women so far at Rs 1,250 each, is Rs 1,650 crore a month, which is nearly Rs 20,000 crore a year. The CM has promised to take this amount to Rs 3,000 a month, which could mean this scheme alone could cost Rs 47,000 crore a year ultimately.
The CM is also giving LPG cylinders at Rs 450 per month and has added Rs 6,000 a year for farmers from the state’s side to the PM Kisan Nidhi scheme of the same quantum. Both the BJP and the Congress, in fact, seem to be in a race to announce poll freebies in Madhya Pradesh, with each eager to match the other and woo the voters. But this is also in a state whose fiscal deficit for 2023-24 is targeted at Rs 55,708 crore, at 4% of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP), which is higher than the 3.5% limit as per the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003.
Reliable sources say that when Himachal Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu had come to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi a couple of months ago after the devastation in the state after the floods, he had asked for Centre’s grant and cited how the state was cash-strapped. This was after the Congress rolled out OPS in the state and a cash dole for women. This has stretched the state’s resources. The Siddaramaiah government in Karnataka is facing similar troubles after rolling out its free power promise, a monthly dole plus free bus rides for women.
The freebie model in elections, in fact, got a life of its own ever since the Congress tasted success with the same in the elections in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. The party is repeating the same trick in the five poll-bound states now, while the BJP has played suit only in the state of Madhya Pradesh, so far, where CM Chouhan seems out of tune with the BJP’s overarching policy on ‘no freebies’. The Prime Minister during his rallies in Madhya Pradesh, so far, has steered clear of referring to the freebie schemes launched by Chouhan, like the Ladli Behana one.
With inputs from News18