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This topic is very important and evergreen because almost every year there are vidhan sabha elections in different states of the country. The most important part of election is agenda which political parties declare in their manifesto. This manifesto is a road map of what will be the aim of the parties for the coming term if they get majority. Parties resort to promises like loan waiver, distributing free television sets, fridge, laptops, money for marriage of daughters etc in their manifestos. Then what is the problem if the future government wants to give some services and goods to its citizen? The debate is whether we want election on basis of baits of free rewards or we want a government which acts as an enabler who facilitates social welfare and the question is also whether we want government which takes care of the core polity and maintenance of its citizens or just be a ‘goods and services’ provider for allowing them to win the election.


Judicial Stance

2013 judgement

In S. Subramaniam Balaji v The government of Tamil Nadu and ors[1]the issue was raised in the apex court. The court touched upon the issues whether freebies in election manifesto amounts to bribe under the ambit of section 123 of the Representation of People Act 1951 (hereinafter referred as RP Act); Does this amounts to doing a thing indirectly which cannot be done directly; what is concept of state largesse; what is public purpose( it was argued that creating private assets does not amounts to public purpose); the issue of jurisdiction that whether it is domain of apex court or not was raised; whether judicial review is allowed. The biggest argument that is given in favour of freebies is that they are way of bringing social equality among people. The court dismissed the appeal and said that it is a policy issue whether in what way the parties when elected in government will spend money for welfare and courts are not allowed to interfere in the same but at the same time it directed the election commission to issue guidelines for the announcements in manifesto.


In 2019 the election commission issued a notice dated march 16th with the subject inclusion of period of release of manifesto in the model code conduct to all political parties which mentioned the 2013 judgement and said that manifesto should not be declared during the prohibited period as under section 126 of RP Act. The guidelines asked the political parties to refrain from declaring unconstitutional, illogical announcements which are capable of exerting undue influence and can vitiate the purity of elections and alongwith proposals that the parties must declare the clear road map of how the finance will arranged, criteria of selection of people and the rationale of the scheme.


Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v Union of India and ors[3] is the present case under consideration in the apex court which has again raised the issue of freebies in the election manifesto and the court has sought answers from various stakeholders and this case will be dealt after the vidhan sabha election of 2022. While discussing the case the court talked about irrational freebie and the debate has hence gained a new dimension. This differentiation is going to help the people in bringing out the actual debate behind this issue. It has already been made clear that the parties are free to give welfare support to people in any form but yet it has been accepted that this practice of declaring freebie has an adverse impact on voters, it is impacting the resolution of free and fair election as it devoids many of level playing field.

May be the difference is in the intent, for example when the government distributes free ration during covid-19 because livelihood was effected badly during the pandemic it is an inevitable step or when government avails tablets/tabs/phones to students during the online education era then also it is rational step but if parties say they will provide a scooty to every household for women (hypothectical) so that girls don’t face harassment on public transport then it is actually irrational because safety of women will ensured by a robust police system not by free scooties.


Whenever a party announces a free thing in return of winning an election the voters get wooed. While the people forget the realisation that everything will be done by taxpayers money and nothing is going to come from fortunes of the politicians. Taxpayers legitimate expectation is public welfare not election motives of a political party.


The citizens of Switzerland in the year 2016 denied a proposal for basic income plan for all (whether employed or unemployed) through a referendum. This very referendum showed the world how people opted hardwork followed by reward over only reward and no hard work. There is nothing like free on earth. Each and every act has an equal effect of it. Free income means no will to work and thus no growth and ultimately less worthy human resource.


The issue that is in hand has no legal backing i.e. there is no provision which says that announcing freebie is wrong. Supreme court in the subramaniam judgement has said that it is not a corrupt practice but there is a fine line for sure which is disturbing and needs an immediate deliberation. We have to decide something which is called public purpose of essential nature when it comes to election manifesto. It is undeniable that a society must be affordable but not free. As said in one of the cases[5] that state must not act in furtherance of eccentric principles of socialist philanthrophy. We need to pierce the veil of freebie in garb of furthering directive principles of state policy. The question whether expenditure of state is wise and good for the state should come from public first. Yes these freebies are good for many but the way they are served is not right for the good citizenry of nation.Governments are elected for a reason and that reason is surely not the freebies but the law making, making and establishing state to state and state to centre relations and also making life of people better by providing avenues for growth and better standard of living, maintaining law and order etc.These political parties instead of giving baits to people must give free education and health and rest people will themselves be capable of availing every necessity/ luxury for themselves. Citizens don’t need bait. The ruling of the court in the present public interest litigation by the supreme court will have a bearing on the quality of polity of nation. A debate needs to come from the common man and if any referendum ever happens in India on this issue the citizen will vote in favour of facility/ hardwork/ avenues and not freebie.

[1] CIVIL APPEAL NO. 5130 OF 2013(Arising out of SLP (C) No. 21455 of 2008) [2] Inclusion_of_period_of_release_of_manifesto_MCC.pdf [3] Writ Petition(Civil) No.43/2022 [4] [5] Roberts vs. Hopwood & Ors. 1925 AC 578

This article is written by Poonam Maurya, postgraduate from Amity University.

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