EC’s new model code & freebies

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(MS Shanker)

The Chief Election Commission has finally cracked the whip against political parties which are making financially unviable promises in their election manifestoes and pushing the state economies into the ‘red’. As a result, it is affecting the overall economic growth of the nation.

Interestingly, the EC notification on the new election code which makes it mandatory for every recognized political party to explain/convince the polls conducting body how they are economically feasible and will not burden the state or nation’s overall revenue collections comes close on the heels of the much-trumpeted Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao’s decision to form a national party – Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS).

The EC was, in a sense, forced to take such a harsh decision as the Supreme Court had directed it in the light of some petitions over some political party’s freebies in some states stalling the overall nation’s economic growth. This genuine concern was triggered after some retired bureaucrats, in interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, broached this subject and insisted that unless those states which are reckless in making false and unfeasible promises needed to be disciplined.

And, this significant development has further intensified in the form of a PIL filed by lawyer and former BJP Delhi Spokesperson Ashwini Upadhyay seeking directions to the Election Commission of India not to permit political parties to promise freebies during election campaigns.

The Petitioner had argued that political parties make promises during elections, without any assessment of financial implication on the state economy, merely to attract vote banks. Thus, tax-payers money is used by political parties to remain in power and this adversely affects free and fair elections.

What is more interesting was the apex court while agreeing with the respondent states defense that in an electoral democracy, the true power lies with the electorate, which judges the parties and candidates, however in the same breath added; “the worries raised by the petitioner that under the guise of welfare, fiscal responsibility is dispensed with, must also be considered.

The bench headed by former CJI Justice Ramana has directed the EC to take a call on the issue as it enjoys absolute powers as one of the Constitutional autonomous bodies, however, proposed for a large bench to take up the matter.

Meanwhile, the better sense seems to have prevailed upon the three members of EC to execute its responsibility even while the case is pending in the apex court. Striking out at the rampant practice of offering freebies to voters, the EC last week issued a notification asking political parties to provide authentic information to the public to assess the financial viability of their poll promises before polls.

The EC has also floated a proposal for standard proforma to be added to the Model of Code Conduct (MCC) by way of amendment to bring clarity to the process of declaration. “A standardized disclosure Pro-forma can be introduced with the aim of not only strengthening the MCC guidance for political parties and candidates but also ensuring authentic information to the voters to assess the financial viability of election promises made by political parties.

Undoubtedly, many political analysts feel that the EC move was to curtail the ambiguity and financial vagueness of promises made by political parties in their respective election manifestoes. In all fairness, the EC had also sought the views of all recognized political parties and requested them to ensure reaching it by October 19.

Against that backdrop, how is Telangana Chief Minister, K Chandrasekhar Rao, floated a new party and named it Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS). How is he going to respond to the EC’s proposal? It is no secret that his shortsighted welfare schemes have pushed the state into a financial debt trap. Ironically, KCR doesn’t stand out alone in such financial mess-ups, but almost all non-BJP governments do. They include; Punjab, Rajasthan, Kerala, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and Jharkhand.

It may be unfair to point out accusing fingers at only Opposition ruled states, even the BJP states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana are also facing financial stress. The only justification of the BJP may not be as blatantly as the Opposition-ruled states, especially the two Telugu states, besides the DMK-headed government in Tamil Nadu.

Telangana state tops the outstanding external debt list. Its debt over the year rose to Rs 3.29 lakh crores and the strain is visible as it could make salary payments to its government employees on time. This was evident from the way the state pensioners got their three months dues on the eve of Dussehra. The chaotic condition prevailed as several development projects were also put on hold as the government was unable to find resources. For example, the Dalit Bandhu scheme, which was introduced on the eve of the Huzurabad assembly by-poll in a bid to garner 6-7 percent, votes to defeat KCR’s bête noir Etala Rajender, itself cost the state exchequer around Rs 1 lakh crore. As if this was not enough, KCR had now come up with “Girijan Bandhu” meant for the tribal population in the state. It may require another Rs 50 lakh crore. Where from he gets funds to judiciously honor them? If such schemes are not meant to hoodwink the electorate ahead of polls, then what else can be?

Yet, KCR claims that his new party BRS, if comes to power will implement the Telangana model of development across the country to dispel the myth of the so-called Gujarat model which was brought in by none other than prime minister Narendra Modi, which ruined the country’s economy. He also brazenly ridicule, that under Modi’s rule the country’s overall growth rate was brought down even below that of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. He alleges that the government was unable to irrigate all its arable lands and give uninterrupted power to all despite the availability of 65,000 tmc ft water and four lakh megawatt generation capacity. He boasts that his state is the only state in the country to give 24×7 power to all categories of consumers along with free power, investment support (Rythu Bandhu), life insurance cover (Rythu Bheema), and irrigation facilities.

So, one expects KCR, now the President of BRS will, instead of opposing the EC initiative, welcome it by these convincing facts to justify his proposal to replicate the so-called successful ‘Telangana model’ across the country and take the nation to greater heights.

And, one hopes that the EC to navigate its new model of code conduct (MCC) in letter and spirit to remove hurdles once all for overall national growth and make India a 5trillion economy sooner than later.