Free rations were BJP’s biggest vote getter in UP Assembly polls

They may be each others bitter opponents in politics but the BJP and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh are in complete agreement when it comes to doling out freebies to voters for electoral gains.

For the Yogi Adityanath government, the distribution of free ration to poor families has been the biggest factor that ensured the victory of the BJP in the 2022 assembly elections.

Five kilograms of ration, packed in plastic bags with photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath printed on them, proved to be a major vote earner for the party.

Besides, free gas connections under the Ujjwala scheme, free toilets, free houses and promises of free bus rides for women above 60 years and two-wheelers for meritorious college girls under the Rani Laxmi Bai Yojana, proved to be a game changer for the BJP that returned to power with a whopping majority.

The freebies announced by the BJP benefitted the voters’ groups more than they contributed to the development of the state.

The politics of freebies in Uttar Pradesh was initiated by the Samajwadi Party government in 2012 and, that too, had little to do with development.

The Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, when he became chief minister in 2012, decided in his first cabinet meeting that the government would provide unemployment allowance of Rs 1,000 per month to unemployed youth registered with the employment exchange and above 35 years of age.

The move was clearly designed to win over young voters.

Akhilesh then announced free laptops for students who pass class 12 and tablets for those who pass class 10. The laptops were a big hit with students though the tablets never came in ample measure.

The cost of the laptop scheme was estimated to be around Rs 3,000 crore per year.

The Akhilesh government also announced financial assistance of Rs 30,000 for Muslim girls passing class 10. This would enable them to go for further education or marriage.

The scheme would cost Rs 300 crores and the beneficiaries were about one lakh.

The schemes in the SP regime were also not aimed at the development of the state though Akhilesh Yadav brought in the Lucknow-Agra Expressway and the metro service in Lucknow.

SP spokesman Anurag Bhadauria said, “Maximum development took place during the Akhilesh Yadav regime. Apart from laptops and scholarships that helped the young generation build a future for themselves, the Akhilesh government also built roads, expressways, metro services, stadiums and parks. It was during the SP regime that premier medical institutions came to UP. If this is not development, then what is it?”

The freebie culture in UP gained ground in the 2022 assembly elections when the SP promised 33 per cent government jobs for women and 300 units of free electricity for domestic use.

The party’s “Samajwadi Vachan Patra” said that by 2025, farmers would be made debt-free. The SP manifesto also promised MSP for all crops, two sacks of free DAP and five sacks of urea to farmers with less than two acres of land. Yadav said all farmers would get free power for irrigation, interest-free loans, insurance and pension.

The SP also promised an urban employment guarantee act on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Yadav promised to revive the ‘Samajwadi Pension’ that had been discontinued by the BJP government.

Akhilesh said that if his party came to power, he would give ‘ghee’ to the people along with ‘nutritious’ ration. The BJP, meanwhile, tried to outdo the Samajwadi Party when it came to promising freebies in the 2022 assembly polls.

The ‘Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra’, released by union home minister Amit Shah and chief minister Yogi Adityanath, promised free power to farmers for five years, a Ramayan University in Ayodhya, Lata Mangeshkar Performing Arts Academy, strengthening the procurement of wheat and paddy at MSP and two-wheelers for meritorious college girls under the Rani Laxmi Bai Yojana.

The ‘Sankalp Patra’ also promised two free LPG cylinders (one each on Holi and Diwali) under the Ujjwala Yojana. The Yogi Adityanath government — with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections — is now on its way to fulfil the promises it made to the voters.

The Yogi Adityanath government, buoyed by the ‘double engine effect’ that takes care of financial aspects, has also ensured development alongside the doles it has given to the people.

Roads, expressways, rapid industrialisation, consolidation of the MSME sector, improvement in the health sector and focus on upgrading the educational system can be safely put under the development category.

“The freebie culture in politics has gained roots and the dividing line between doles and development is blurring. What is a freebie for one, is termed as ’empowerment’ by the other. What is worrying is the fact that this will derail the economy, sooner than later, because huge sums are being spent in appeasing various voter groups,” said a professor in the Economics department of Lucknow University.

BJP spokesman O.P. Singh said, “The Yogi Adityanath government has been working on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision and with an eye on the last man in the line. If we have schemes that are benefitting the poor, there is also a focus on building infrastructure and generating employment. We do not have a short-sighted approach on this issue.”

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