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Behind Narendra Modi’s ‘No Freebies’ Policy, A 2007 Lesson in Gujarat – News18

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI)

As chief minister, Modi had picked a mantra in 2007 — that nothing is actually free and people will lose out on development if they fall for freebies

Narendra Modi was facing his second state elections in 2007 in Gujarat and the buzz was that it was going to be tough for him this time, after winning the 2002 elections on the back of the Gujarat riots. The central BJP leadership had a proposed antidote — let’s go the freebies way.

Senior BJP leaders toured Gujarat and advised Modi to announce two things — free electricity and a farm loan waiver. They said this would pave the way for a sure-shot win. But Modi stood his ground amidst pressure from the central BJP leadership, saying clearly that he knew his state and that he would go for a development-oriented manifesto.

A few days later, the Congress announced its manifesto promising a host of freebies for the electorate, like free ration and a colour TV to the poor families in the state. Modi was soon cornered by the media at an election rally, asking him how he would win the elections in wake of such promises by the Congress.

“Everyone will have to pay for electricity or authorities will send a notice,” Modi announced, which some thought was political hara-kiri at that moment. But BJP under Modi won handsomely in the elections, getting 117 seats while Congress could only notch up 59 seats.

This event seems to have shaped Modi’s political viewpoint on the concept of freebies, and his constant advocacy of the ‘revadi culture’ not helping the country’s economy – which he vociferously raised in Parliament on Thursday.

A case in point are the difficulties now being faced by the chief ministers of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka in running the state after announcing huge amount of freebies and coming to power on the back of it.

Himachal Pradesh’s struggle has been compounded also because it was struck by heavy rainfall and floods, causing widespread destruction. In Karnataka, deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar has said that development in the state will have to wait as the priority first is to deliver the ‘guarantees’ like free electricity and free bus rides and a monthly payout to women.

This has made some in the BJP wonder why the state leadership of the Congress has not been able to stand up to their central leadership obsession with freebies, like Modi had done in 2007.

One such example of the dilemma of parties over the freebies debate is reflected in a book titled ‘She, The Leader – Women in Indian Politics’ which was released on Friday and is written by journalist Nidhi Sharma.

It recounts the late Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s loss in the Delhi elections in 2013, with Dikshit also losing her New Delhi constituency to Arvind Kejriwal by 25,000 votes. Kejriwal had promised free electricity and water to people in the elections. As per the book, Dikshit’s son Sandeep says she never regretted not promising free electricity and water.

“…Yes, Amma (my mother) did not realise that free electricity and water would get the kind of traction it did. She had no regrets that she did not bite the free-electricity bait. Not even once did she say that. She had always believed that ‘free’ is instrumentally a different path. She was very clear – we are social democrats, we will price every service, every commodity at a reasonable cost but never free,” Sandeep Dikshit is quoted as saying to the author in the book.

However, the Congress party now seems to have taken a leaf out of the AAP’s playbook to offer freebies in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka and in the upcoming state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh like free electricity and loan waivers.

PM Modi in his speech on the no-confidence motion in Parliament on Thursday said such policies of the Congress are detrimental for the health of the economy. Modi spoke on the culture of ‘freebies’ being promoted by the Congress in state elections and said they want a country whose economy is weakened.

“They make unrealistic promises to people in elections and development programmes are being stopped in states. They are a guarantee for India going bankrupt, they are a guarantee of a drowning economy, for double-digit inflation, for policy paralysis, instability… and a guarantee for taking India two decades back,” he said.

This reflects the mantra that Modi had picked in 2007 as a CM — that nothing is actually free and people will lose out on development if they fall for the freebies.

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