From crop investment support to expansive health programs, a myriad of welfare schemes has been promised in the five poll-bound states. As the number of welfare schemes has been rising so has the pressure on the state exchequer, with expenditure almost doubling between 2014 and 2023, data says.
Welfare schemes have become a permanent fixture of election campaigns in India, often lying in the grey area where the distinction between welfare and freebies becomes blurred. Politicians across the parties have frequently thrown jabs at each other labelling the others’ proposals as part of the "revdi culture”, adding to the nation’s fiscal debt.
What is welfare scheme?
Welfare schemes, in their truest sense, refer to support programs run by the government to help the poor and needy. In recent political discourse, they translate to tools that can win you an election.
The inception of welfare schemes finds its roots in the fundamental concept of a welfare state, where the government assumes a pivotal role in safeguarding and enhancing the economic and social welfare of its populace
Parties have, in the past, made grand promises of welfare schemes, but the true extent of those promises has only been realised after the election results, sometimes failing to materialise and only remaining as mere campaign rhetoric.
Earlier this year, PM Modi warned against the rise of “revdi culture” or freebie culture and called it a threat to “development”. His remark was criticised by members of parties like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Congress, TRS, YSR Congress, and DMK.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said, “Public welfare is the top priority of the state government. Weekly payment is made to the poor and elderly in developed countries. Everyone has the right to live.”
However, recently BJP has been found declaring freebies in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan that otherwise would have been considered as a part of 'revdi culture'.
Welfare scheme vs Freebies
Last year, the Supreme Court emphasised the need for distinguishing between welfare programs and freebies, highlighting the necessity of achieving a proper balance between the two.
"Freebies and the social welfare scheme are different...Economy losing the money and the welfare of people, both have to be balanced and that is why, this debate. There must be someone who can put their vision and thoughts. Please submit something before my retirement," the CJI said.
The top court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, which opposes the practice of political parties promising freebies during elections, Economic Times reported.
“[It is a] serious issue and those who are getting [the freebies], they want it. Ours is a welfare state. Some may say that they are paying taxes and it has to be used for developmental processes...So both sides have to be heard by committee,” the bench said.
Welfare schemes that influenced electoral outcome
Welfare schemes have become a common feature of contemporary political discourse, with extensive welfare schemes proposed during election campaigns, but it wasn’t always like this. The trend catapulted only when some welfare schemes proved to be a game-changer for parties’ fates and ultimately won them elections.
The recent triumph in Karnataka, marked by a landslide victory, can be attributed to the party's "five guarantees." These guarantees encapsulated a range of comprehensive schemes and were instrumental in shaping the electoral success. The guarantees, namely Anna Bhagya, Shakthi, Gruha Lakshmi, Gruha Jyothi, and Yuva Nidhi, stood as pillars of the party's winning strategy
Previously, election outcomes have been influenced by various welfare initiatives, such as the BJP's commitment to free medicine and rations during the Gujarat elections. Similarly, the Tamil Nadu government's schemes, including complimentary bus rides, free breakfast programs, and free power connections, have received acclaim for their impact on electoral favorability.
The BJP has established a support base among welfare beneficiaries of central government schemes known as "labharthis," since the 2017-’18 period. Party leaders say that the growing and strong support from welfare beneficiaries has played a key role in the BJP's success in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and important state polls.
The ongoing election season has also seen a similar trend with a comprehensive range of welfare schemes presented to the voters.
The two big names going head-to-head in MP’s state elections are current CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan from BJP and ex-CM Kamal Nath from Congress. Both parties have put forth an extensive manifesto encompassing schemes for welfare of farmers, women, tribals and OBCs.
On Tuesday, the Union cabinet approved a Rs 24k crore scheme with tribal welfare at the helm. The Pradhan Mantri Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan (PM-JANMAN) is a move by the BJP to woo tribal voters in MP, which has 47 out of 230 assembly seats reserved for scheduled tribes. In addition, the BJP government’s manifesto titled “Sankalp Patra” includes promises of increasing the minimum support price (MSP) of wheat and paddy, various schemes for disadvantaged women offering free education, LPG cylinders at subsidised rates and financial assistance.
Congress’ manifesto also included increased MSP for wheat and rice and a monthly stipend for women, in addition to a 25-lakh health care cover, 27 per cent OBC reservation and reimplementation of the old pension scheme. Congress party also announced their plans for conducting a caste-based survey in MP and also other poll-bound states and at a national level if they are successful in forming the government to help the government make better and targeted schemes for welfare of OBCs, dalits and tribals.
At a rally, Rahul Gandhi said the census would be like an “X-ray”
"When a person gets injured, we take him for an X-ray to find out if he has suffered a bone fracture or not. In the same way, I call the caste census an X-ray. It will reveal the proportion of OBCs. Dalits and tribals in the population and ensure their participation in government,” he said.
In response to this Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the poor were the biggest caste for him, and accused the opposition of dividing society.
Some of the Congress party’s “modern” promises included the formation of a state IPL team and the building of an artificial intelligence centre.
BJP’s Chhattisgarh manifesto or “Modi’s Guarantees” as they’re calling it closely mirrors several commitments made by the incumbent party, as claimed by current CM Bhupesh Baghel. “They’ve copied Congress’ manifesto,” he told ANI in an interview.
Both BJP and Congress have promised benefits for farmers, women, LPG cylinders at a subsidised cost along with paddy procurement at increased rates. BJP has also promised a visit to Ayodhya’s Ram temple.
The BJP unveiled its promises two days prior to the Congress, and it was noted that for commitments with similar structures, the Congress proposed benefits of higher value than those outlined by the BJP and even exceeded their initially stated offerings
For example Congress initially said it would give Rs 3000 per quintal for paddy purchased from farmers but then upped the rate to Rs 3200 in the formal manifesto. BJP set its price at Rs 3100.
Congress even upped the value of benefits from its current schemes, it said if the party was reelected the landless would receive ₹10,000 per year, up from the ₹7,000 they are getting under the Rajiv Gandhi Landless Agricultural Labourer Justice Scheme.
Among the slew of promises by Congress, it was anticipated that farmer loan waivers and the reinstatement of the old pension scheme would be the most influential in garnering votes.
In the Telangana election, the manifestos of the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and the primary opposition Congress party exhibit significant similarities. Both parties emphasise expanding financial assistance programs.
BJP on the other hand has gone a different way with promises of cow slaughter ban, free yatras to Ram mandir, implementation of Uniform Civil Code and doing away with reservations for Muslim community.
The incumbent party BRS has promised to better its existing schemes. It will increase Rythu Bandhu’ scheme benefit for land-owning farmers from Rs 10,00 per acre to Rs 16,000 per acre. The health cover would be increased to Rs 15 lakh and Aasara’ pension, given to widows, the elderly, AIDS patients and beedi workers, from Rs 2,016 per month to Rs 5,016 per month. Women will get a monthly stipend and gas cylinders at a discounted rate.
Congress has released a 40-plus-page manifesto for Telangana centred around ‘six guarantees’. Congress promised to up the benefit received under the Rythu Bandhu scheme to Rs 15,000 per acre in addition to Rs 12,000 every year to farm labourers. A monthly stipend of Rs 2,500 for women, health insurance coverage of Rs 10 lakh for eligible recipients, and gas cylinders priced at Rs 500 for eligible individuals and a pension scheme just like Aasara, offering Rs 4000 to beneficiaries.
TPCC election manifesto committee chairman D Sridhar Babu told The New Indian Express, “We are drafting it [manifesto] with a scientific approach so that we do not have to go for any significant cuts to non-plan expenditures.
He said that from the 2024-25 financial year, the State budget would witness an increase of 2.85 lakh crore annually, with continued growth projected at 30 per cent to 40 per cent each year. “Approximately 65 per cent to 70 per cent of budget allocations would be effectively utilised by the Congress government,” Sridhar Babu said.
The BJP in Rajasthan has outlined several key promises, including an increased Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat procurement, addressing the contentious issue of land acquisition by working on a comprehensive compensation plan for affected farmers.
The party plans to establish Anti-Romeo Squads and additionally, the Lado Protsahan Yojana providing a savings bond of Rs 2 lakh to households with newborn daughters. The BJP is also introducing a Free Scooty Scheme for meritorious students pursuing higher education and enhancing the subsidy for Ujjwala Yojana beneficiaries from Rs 500 to Rs 950. To boost tourism and generate employment, the party commits to establishing a Rs 2,000 crore corpus fund.
Congress unveiled its 'seven guarantees' to the people. The promises include an annual honorarium of Rs 10,000 for the woman head of the family, LPG cylinders priced at Rs 500 for, purchasing dung from cattle rearers at Rs 2 per kg, elevating the Chiranjeevi health insurance scheme from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 50 lakh.
The party also promised a law for the old pension scheme for government employees and providing free laptops/tablets to students enrolling in government colleges. The Congress also pledged a new recruitment scheme at the panchayat level, creation of 4 lakh government jobs, and conducting a caste census as part of its election manifesto for Rajasthan.
The ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) is fighting to retain power in Mizoram while the Zoram People's Movement (ZPM), BJP, and Congress will attempt to dethrone the incumbent government.
The BJP unveiled its manifesto titled the 'Vision Document' promises a 33 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, the establishment of the 'Mizoram Hmeichhiate Battalion,' the state's first all-women police battalion, and an investment of Rs 1,000 crore to revamp the agricultural infrastructure.
The BJP also committed to launching 'Operation Drug-Free Mizoram' to address drug addiction among the youth and to resolve the longstanding border dispute between Mizoram and Assam.
Additionally, a special investigation team would be formed to probe irregularities and corruption in the implementation of the Socio-Economic Development Programme, the flagship scheme of the current MNF government. It has also promised a budget for revamping government schools, constructing and upgrading government colleges, investing in sports development, and upgrading medical facilities, roads, and tourism.
Congress pledged to provide LPG cylinders at Rs 750, a monthly old-age pension of Rs 2,000, health insurance coverage up to Rs 15 lakh, and emphasised the development of durable public infrastructure. The party promised establishment of the Young Mizo Entrepreneurs Program (YmElevate) to support farmers and entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, the MNF party says its biggest priority is the welfare of Zo people. “That's the reason, our government has provided shelters to over 30,000 Chin refugees who fled military ruled Myanmar and some from Bangladesh. We have also provided shelters to over 12,000 Kukis who were displaced due to violence in Manipur,” an MNF leader told Deccan Herald.
Data on “freebie culture”
According to Crisil Ratings, a domestic rating agency, top Indian states' spending on social welfare will touch a 10-year high of Rs 4 lakh crore in the ongoing fiscal year.
The results were based on data from 11 states which were Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
"While allocation towards social welfare schemes is seen essential considering India's demography, a steady increase in the same without commensurate increase in revenues may have an impact the credit profiles of the states in the longer run," the agency said.
“The higher growth on social welfare schemes is due to states prioritising financial assistance to certain target demographics in the form of direct transfers, pensions, and cash incentives, and, in some instances, to honour election commitments,” said Anuj Sethi, Senior Director, CRISIL Ratings.