Home / Opinion / Views /  Freebies and votes

The Election Commission (EC) had added its voice to India’s debate on freebies. The conductor of polls reportedly wants political parties to tell voters before elections what their handout proposals would cost and how they would be funded. This may also include a picture of the shape that public coffers are in. These proposed disclosure norms have been put to political parties for their views. Coming clean sounds good in principle, and the UK government’s travails over fiscal credibility offer a cautionary tale, but our big problem is a lack of consensus on what qualifies as a freebie and what is, say, social support or a business incentive. Governance involves fund allocations that may or may not be called discretionary, depending on the allocator’s political perspective. Given such high subjectivity, any EC intervention here would be ill-advised. In an electoral democracy, it is for voters to decide what they make of political promises, regardless of how infeasible they are. What voters deserve, though, is a clear picture of state finances. Budget disclosures should be easier to interpret, and political rivalry should be relied upon for Indian electorates to start understanding fiscal trade-offs.

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