A political party that hands over cash or liquor on the eve of elections to voters is rightly prosecuted under the law. However, one that offers post-election bribes to voters from the public exchequer seems to be in the clear if one is to go by the current debate underway on ‘freebies’. Is it so hard to make the distinction between bribes and genuine welfare schemes? There is, of course, a gray area, but should there be any doubts when all that a political party has to offer in its election manifesto is just giveaways?
The Aam Aadmi Party, for instance, is a good example of how straightforward handouts for a certain section of the electorate can influence election results. It may be noted that the party does well in areas where the percentage of middle class and taxpaying voters is small. Where there is greater awareness about the consequences of populist politics on the overall and long-term well-being of people, such politics makes little headway. This was why there was total rejection of AAP in Uttarakhand, despite all its tall promises.
However, as was the case in Punjab, disillusionment with the main contenders, the Congress and SAD, led to acceptance of AAP as an alternative. Having made it to power through its unashamed populism, the new government is now caught between a rock and a hard place. Its failure to deliver good governance will have an impact not just on an already stressed state, but also the nation’s security.
This is why measures need to be taken to ensure that opportunistic politicians cannot bribe their way to power by raiding government coffers. Ideally, people should be aware enough to recognise the scamsters, but properly worked out regulations are also needed. These could be inspired by the Supreme Court, or ideally worked out by Parliament. Mainstream political parties, whatever their ideological inclinations, should be united on the need to ensure the electoral system is not hijacked by unscrupulous manipulators. Another way to prevent this, of course, is higher turnout during elections, as well as involvement of non-partisan civil society groups in the political debate, so that people are better informed on the issues that matter. Africa and South America have a long history of populist politicians who hijacked the system to the long term detriment of their nations. India should not follow that example.