Hyderabad: It’s raining promises in Andhra Pradesh, where state and national polls will be held simultaneously in two phases—on 16 April and 23 April. Critics warn that the state’s finances risk being crippled if the parties making the promises—from unemployment doles to free colour television sets—actually implement them.
The newly formed Praja Rajyam Party, or PRP, of actor Chiranjeevi, says it will provide rice, cooking oil and salt—the most essential of monthly provisions—for Rs100 a month if it is voted to power in the state.
It has also promised to provide one cooking gas cylinder each at Rs100 per month to all below the poverty line, or BPL, families.
Campaign trail: NTR Jr, grandson of the late Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, at a Telugu Desam Party election roadshow in Visakhapatnam on Thursday. This time around, the party says it will offer free colour TV sets to all poor families if it is voted to power. PTI
The Telugu Desam Party, or TDP, which under former state chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had veered away from its founder N.T. Rama Rao’s populist legacy by emphasizing on growth in sectors such as information technology, is back to its old ways after being forced to sit in the opposition for the past five years.
Andhra Pradesh, which has 42 Lok Sabha seats and 294 assembly seats, has been a testing ground for populist schemes ever since the late Rama Rao promised rice at Rs2 per kg in the 1983 assembly polls. That helped his then nascent TDP sweep to power.
The TDP, which has formed a Maha Kootami (grand alliance) with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, or TRS, the Communist Party of India, or CPI, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, this time around says it will offer free colour TV sets to all BPL families, if it is voted to power.
With 15 million BPL families in the state, TDP’s own rough estimates show that it will have to spend some Rs7,500 crore to fulfil that promise.
The TDP has also said it will give a direct monthly cash transfer of Rs2,000 per BPL family and Rs1,000 per month for middle-income families, whose definition it is yet to provide.
The TDP’s president and former chief minister Naidu argues that such schemes are popular in some South American countries and are aimed at providing financial security to the poor.
These apart, the TDP has promised free homes to the poor and a waiver of loans to farmers and weavers—all of which are estimated to cost some Rs10,000 crore a year, if they are implemented.
Both the Praja Rajyam and the TDP have also promised a monthly allowance of Rs1,000 to each unemployed person in the state. The two parties are hitting out at each other. “What will poor people of this state do with TV sets when they are faced with hunger?” asked PRP founder Chiranjeevi about the TDP’s promise of free colour TV sets to the poor.
N. Jayaprakash Narayan, convener of the Lok Satta Party, who was formerly in the Indian Administrative Service, or IAS, has urged the Election Commission to stop political parties from making “unhealthy promises”.
The Election Commission’s model code of conduct prevents only the government in power from going ahead with significant policy initiatives. This code of conduct doesn’t stop opposition parties from making promises to voters.
C. Ramachandraiah, a social scientist with the Centre for Economics and Social Sciences at Hyderabad, says such promises, if implemented, will only make the state financially weaker.
“The current government of the Congress, with all its populist schemes, is already finding it difficult to manage the state’s finances and several public works taken up by the government are lying unfinished,” he said. “In a state which has a power supply shortfall of 40 million units a day, what is the use of distributing colour TV if there is no power to use it?” he asked.
Even the political parties doling out such promises are not clear how they would fund their proposed schemes.
PRP manifesto committee chairman and former Union minister P. Shiv Shankar said there are various taxes that his party was planning to raise revenue to support the populist schemes. “We will present all these details in our budget.”
While the TDP’s Naidu admits that the schemes announced by his party will require huge funds, he says that the state’s revenues have been growing at a healthy rate, thanks to, he claims, the economic reforms his government had introduced.
On its part, the Congress government led by chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy is banking on the schemes it has already introduced to return to power.
C. Rudraraju Padmaraju, a member of the state legislative council, listed some of them: Free power to farmers at a yearly cost of Rs5,000 crore, supply of rice at Rs2 per kg, a health insurance scheme and housing for the poor, among others. He estimated that such schemes cost a total of Rs25,000 crore a year.
C. Narasimha Rao a political analyst, says the state’s economy will be crippled if the party that comes to power actually implements its promises. “Unfortunately, the political parties in the state appear to be interested in coming to power at any cost by announcing such populist promises instead of formulating schemes that help empower people,” he said.