Tamil Nadu electon: Will the best freebie win?
5/52685001_online_dmkpainting-150×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”150″ height=”150″ />Ramya Mani’s home is a small, dark space. There are only two items that catch the eye, one on each side of the rectangular abode: a gleaming gas stove and a tiny television.
Both are thank-you gifts from the incumbent DMK party, unmissable, unforgettable tokens of appreciation for being a faithful voter.
Ramya, along with tens of millions of people in Tamil Nadu, has been thanked by the DMK party in this way for the past five years.
The practice of pledging gifts for votes in this southern state began in 2006.
In a last-ditch attempt to salvage an all-but lost election the DMK Party – then in opposition – promised to give voters free television sets if elected.
And much to the surprise of their political opponents and fierce critics of the scheme, the DMK won.
So successful did other major political parties perceive the strategy to be, that this time round they too built freebies into their campaign manifestos.
From blenders, ceiling fans and washing machines to gold, home loans and cattle, a whole host of consumer goods were offered to voters in return for their support at the ballot box.
Television commercials even showed leaders of major parties handing out gifts and happy voters walking away with bags of grains, gold and laptops.
Voters admit the giveaways have been quirky and enticing.
Political parties painted freebie pledges and lists of items of offer in villages like Nazarath Peth, an hour from the state capital, Chennai.
Those the BBC spoke to in and around the state capital Chennai said that parties had made attractive offers.
However most people were quick to add that they would have voted for their chosen candidates even if there were no material gains to be had.
Observers of this assembly election are more skeptical. They argue that the freebie-frenzy sidelined debate on issues of state-wide significance such as rolling power cuts, price rises and law and order.
S. Subramaniam Balaji, a Chennai-based lawyer who has taken his case against the DMK’s TV-for-vote scheme to the Supreme Court of India, says that the superficial focus on gift-giving was disappointing.
But he adds what is of deeper concern is the potentially wasteful use of public funds.