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360 View | ‘Financial Freedom’ or ‘Freebies’? Cash Transfers New Hit as Cong & BJP Bet on Women Voters – News18

“It is ours,” said Congress Parliamentary Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, referring to the women’s reservation bill as she entered Parliament early Tuesday morning. Her approach towards the bill, which includes her letters to the Central government, requesting passage of the bill in the special session, clearly indicates that Congress will claim its share of credit as it had proposed the reservation 13 years ago during the time of UPA-II.

Over the last six months, Congress announced women-centric schemes, including financial assistance of up to Rs 2,500 per month, LPG cylinders at subsidised rates across poll-bound Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.

The allowance for women clearly was instrumental in achieving a sweeping electoral victory for the Congress in Karnataka.

So, is the Congress betting big on women voters? Are its poll strategies going to highlight the monthly payouts for women voters, subsidised cylinders, and now the women reservation bill?

According to the senior economists and analysts News 18 spoke with, the fresh approach by the Congress in granting financial assistance to underprivileged and economically weaker section of women voters yields results. They feel that they have cracked the code of winning the state elections.

Laxmi Bhandar, Gruha Laxmi, Mahalaxmi — Age of Women Voters

Schemes such as Rs 500 monthly allowance to women of West Bengal brought a resounding victory for Mamata Banerjee in the 2021 assembly elections. The scheme was called ‘Laxmi-Bhandar’ in her manifesto.

The Karnataka Congress too promised a monthly allowance of Rs 2,000 to women heads of every family under the Gruha Lakshmi scheme, which was part of its five guarantees made before the assembly elections. The party eventually swept the Karnataka assembly elections this year.

In the run-up to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls slated this year, Congress leader Kamal Nath has said his government will pay Rs 1,500 per month to women, and provide LPG cylinders at subsidised rates in each household if voted to power in the state.

Sonia Gandhi announced on Sunday “six guarantees” for poll-bound Telangana, including the Mahalakshmi scheme providing Rs 2,500 financial assistance to women every month, to be implemented if the party comes to power.

“Rs 2,500 per month financial assistance will be given to women of Telangana under the Mahalakshmi scheme, gas cylinders at Rs 500, and free travel for women in TSRC buses across the state. To fulfil the aspirations of the people of Telangana, we are announcing six guarantees. We are committed to fulfilling each one of them,” Sonia Gandhi said at a rally in Hyderabad.

Freebies or freedom?

A senior Congress leader has called such schemes a “step forward to give people the freedom of choice and not give freebies”.

“Several state governments give away things such as cycles, TVs, utensils, ration, rice, oil, sugar and so on. We are trying to give people a basic income so that they can choose to do whatever they want with the money. There is no point imposing a material on them which they may not need. Our government brought NREGA for the same reason. It was about giving people employment and a way of creating assets. We understand that the schemes need administrative efficiency, our governments will look into it,” said a senior Congress leader.

Even as the Congress has been announcing women-centric schemes and monthly financial assistance to people, the Narendra Modi-led government also brought down the price of LPG cylinders while Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh announced his Ladli Behna scheme – “Rakhi gift for women”.

“Hum de toh revdi, Modi ji de rahe hain toh Rakhi gift?” asked the Congress leader.

But a senior BJP leader told News18 there has to be a distinction between freebies and facilities. “Our governments provide facilities and benefits to people. Gas cylinders at subsidised rates is a facility that the government is extending to economically weaker section, while Congress and other Opposition parties are doling out freebies rampantly. Do people who live in Defence Colony or Lutyen’s need free electricity? Does everybody in Karnataka need financial assistance? That is why we are calling these schemes freebies, these are just the tools to buy votes,” said the BJP leader.

Growth vs inequality

Anindya Sen, a senior economist and professor of IIM (C), said cash transfer through DBT (direct benefit transfer) seems to be a good governance option as there should be a balance between rising growth of the country and declining financial conditions of the poor.

Citing the references of the trickle-down economics, Sen added, “Country’s financial growth is increasing, but there are well-documented evidences to prove that inequality is increasing. In India, there is no such social security net. The inflation is also on the rise and the prices of the items for regular consumption are soaring high. In this kind of a situation, giving money to the economically weaker section is part of social engineering. And it cannot be blatantly called as freebies.”

About sustainability of such schemes, the senior economist said, “The state and the central governments waste money on several unnecessary things. In addition, there are leakages too. With so much of digitisation and active DBT process, providing the poor with socio-economic security should not leave an adverse effect the economy overall. Instead, it will bring equality and efficiency. In terms of asset creation, the government needs to monitor what they are paying for and bring more efficiency there. The government once announced that there will not be any subsidy, but bringing the price of cylinders down is also a form of subsidy.”

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