In recent days, gift giving suddenly entered the news cycle as Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the culture ‘Revadi’ or gift giving and said it is dangerous for the country and could have far-reaching economic consequences.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warning against gifts is well timed. He has rightly compared them to the free distribution of revdis (a kind of candy).
Referring to this practice, he aptly said, “There is also a big challenge… If not paid attention to now, it can cause a lot of harm to the youth of India and the current generation. Your present will be lost and your future will be confined to darkness… That is why it is important to wake up now. Today, everything is being done in our country to introduce the culture of collecting votes by distributing gifts.” He went on to point out that leaders who indulge in such a culture “will never build new highways, airports or defence corridors for you. They feel that they will buy people by giving them gifts.” Although he did not take any names, the message was conveyed.
The attack was seen as direct gouging of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has promised “gifts” of Rs 1,000 a month to women and a 24-hour power supply ahead of Gujarat’s elections.
The matter even made its way to the High Court with NV Chief Justice Ramana on Thursday declaring that a balance must be struck between the money-losing economy and welfare measures. His remark came as the high court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, who opposes the practice of political parties promising gifts during elections.
What is Revdi culture?
The dictionary meaning of the word gift is something given to you for free. So free energy, health care, and education can technically be counted as a gift. However, the actual meaning depends on who you ask and the time and place. We also need to define what a “freebie” is. By definition, a gift is something that is given or provided free of charge. So free energy, health care, and education can technically be counted as a gift.
As the Electoral Commission has explained, gifts were a term open to subjective interpretation and did not have precise legal definitions. For example, during a natural disaster or pandemic, providing life-saving medicine, food, or funds can save lives, but in regular times, they may be referred to as gifts.
A report by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has stated that the gifts are not worthwhile goods or expenses, such as the public distribution system, employment guarantee schemes and state support for educational and health facilities. It states that the gifts are provisions for free electricity, water or transportation, in addition to the exemption of utility bills and outstanding loans, and other similar benefits.
Why there is a Need for Freebies?
Facilitates growth: There are some examples showing that some expenditure disbursements have general benefits, such as the Public Distribution System, employment guarantee schemes, support for education and improved disbursements for health, particularly during the pandemic.
Helpless developed states: With states having a comparatively lower level of development having a higher proportion of the population suffering from poverty, these types of gifts are based on need/demand and it becomes essential to offer people such allowances for their own elevation.
Essential to meet expectations: In a country like India where the states have (or do not have) a certain level of development, at the time of the elections, there are expectations on the part of the people that are met by such promises of gifts.
Help Less Developed States: In States that are lacking in development, gifts are based on need/demand and it becomes essential to offer people such subsidies for their own betterment.
During the 2006 state elections, the DMK stepped up its free game and offered colour televisions to voters.
From then on, the whole cycle went haywire, with parties trying to come forward offering gas stones, cash, bits of land, and even maternity assistance.
In 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seized power in Delhi with a promise to provide a certain amount of free water and electricity to the people.
In 2021, Thulam Saravanan, an independent candidate from Madurai in the Tamil Nadu elections, promised that those who voted for him would receive helicopters and cars, Rs 1 crore per household, gold, domestic robots, 100-day trips to the moon, and even, artificial icebergs to keep the residents of their constituency “cool”.
Who pays for these gifts?
The very simple answer to this is the taxpayer. A report in The Quint explains it best: “It’s like putting money in your left pocket out of your right pocket.”
Experts say the gifts disrupt state finances and send governments spiralling into debt. For example, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy said that his government spent Rs 1.62 lakh crore on various free schemes. This is despite the state recently considering mortgaging government land and offices to run the administration.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi party is guilty of quite a few irresponsible populist moves, was quick to reply to the prime minister: “Accusations are being levelled against me, but I want to ask what my mistake is. 18 lakh students are studying in the government schools of Delhi. We are providing them with a free and quality education. Am I committing a crime by giving them a good free education?” Unfortunately, this is a spiteful answer, not a reasoned one. Free education is not a free gift, but free bus rides for women, free electricity and water, etc.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that it is not just the AAP but all parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, that are trying to collect votes by distributing gifts. The situation is especially bad at the state level. A recent study by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has underlined this fact.
“We can identify a core subset of highly stressed states among the 10 states identified by the necessary condition, i.e. debt/GSDP ratio. The most stressed states are Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal,” he said.
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