Sarkar has revived the age-old debate about distribution of freebies. While it is the voice of the right wing parties that rings the loudest against this practice by Dravidian parties now, Congress too was once a staunch critic of freebies.
In fact, it was a retort by the then Congress chief minister Bhakthavatsalam, in response to Annadurai’s demand to distribute three padis (a Tamil unit of measurement), that prompted the latter to coin the poll promise, “Rubaaiku moonu padi latchiyam, oru padi nitchayam” (Distributing three padis for Re 1 is our goal; one padi is a certainty).
Anna’s follower Karunanidhi had later distributed rice at Re 1 per kg in the 2006-2011 DMK tenure, which was later upgraded into a free scheme by the late Jayalalithaa of AIADMK.
What the new generation of critics have not realised is that by using freebies or welfare schemes, Kamarajar, MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa put Tamil Nadu on top of the human development index.
Professor J Jayaranjan, former fellow of MIDS (Madras Institute of Development Studies) dismisses the discourse against freebies as one borrowed from proponents of neo-liberalism. He said, “The rhetoric is pushed mostly by right wingers and elitists who refuse to see the social equality such welfare schemes have created.”
“They use the rhetoric to end the bi-polarity of Dravidian parties in the state. They had criticised it even when free bus pass scheme was introduced. The kind of mobility the scheme created is not spoken about,” he added.
“Critics overlook the extent to which freebies have permeated in Tamil Nadu, unlike in other states, which is an indicator of the benefit of development reaching the people. Politicians who argue that freebies were distributed to capture power should explain why people vote for the two Dravidian parties alternatively when the party in power makes attractive promises. There is no evidence or data to suggest that freebies alone fetch votes,” Jayaranjan argued.