Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman has demanded a debate on the distribution of freebies, countering Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s allegation that the Central government only distributes largesse among its friends in the corporate world. Mr Kejriwal, she added, is giving “perverse twist” to the debate on freebies.
“Health and education have never been called freebies. No Indian government has ever denied them. So classifying education and health as freebies, Kerjiwal is trying to bring in a sense of worry and fear in minds of poor. There should be a genuine debate on this matter,” she told reporters.
“Arvind Kejriwal is deliberately framing the argument in a manner that is wrong. Nobody is saying that giving free benefits to the poor is wrong. But it is also wrong to classify the loan write-offs as being freebies, or to say that corporate tax rate cut was designed to benefit the corporates,” sources said.
The Cente has argued that the opposition does not appear to have a coherent strategy for long-term corrective steps — creating employment, boosting income or improve the ease of doing business. Rather, the focus is entirely on winning elections and staying in power by promising freebies.
Such tactics will eventually hit the exchequer and lead to bankruptcy of the state, the Centre has contended, pointing out that in a competitive political environment, all parties will be under pressure if they bring electoral success.
The debate about freebies started after Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party won a massive mandate in Punjab with the Delhi model of governance, which has given them two consecutive terms in power. Under it, free power and water are seen as big draws.
AAP has also made similar promises in Gujarat, where elections are due at the end of this year. In addition, they have promised allowances for the unemployed.
The debate got a boost after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking at a function in Jharkhand last month, cautioned against the “politics of shortcuts”, saying it can “destroy” the nation.
Freebies “won’t deliver new airport or new medical college”, PM Modi had said. “If you give things for free, then how can you build airports or roads?”
The BJP had followed it up with a “free rewari” coinage
Arvind Kejriwal hit back, claiming what destroys the nation is not freebies but corruption.
The BJP’s rewari is “offered only to their friends and ends up in Swiss banks”, he said, whereas it is only the people who deserve “free rewari”.
“It is public money, whatever you get free should be for citizens and not for contractors or ministers,” he said.
“Those who speak against free rewari have bad intentions. I am saying, discuss in the country, conduct a referendum on whether people should get electricity, water, education — free or not,” the Delhi Chief Minister said.