Within living memory there has been nothing that comes anywhere near the election manifesto of the DMK. It is an incredible cascade of bonanzas: One feels fazed and dazed by even a bare enumeration of the 36 promises. The more staggering of them are: Quality rice at Rs 2 per kg; allotment of two acres of land to every landless poor family; colour TV in every home; free gas stove to all poor women; financial assistance of up to Rs 300 to every unemployed youth; free electricity to weavers in addition to farmers; a grant of Rs 1,000 per month for six months by way of maternity assistance; and reservation for Muslims and Christians.

The party has also committed in advance to extending the benefit of recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission to all the State Government employees. The media reports do not mention the criteria for selection of beneficiaries: The only reasonable and prudent basis would be for the benefits to be made available to those with income levels close to or below poverty line. Even on this basis, the total cost of implementation can at a pinch touch several thousand crores. The burden additionally imposed by the Sixth Pay Commission may quite conceivably devastate the State's finances.

From the social security angle also, the bounties seem utterly extravagant, if not ill-conceived. In a milieu in which the poor have to go even without basic amenities, such as drinking water, health care and shelter, what will they do with a colour TV or a gas stove? It is problematic to find enough land for distribution to all the landless in the State. When free electricity to farmers is under fire, inclusion of weavers will put paid to all further reforms in the power sector. One cannot escape the impression that the manifesto is populism running riot. Or, is it, as some wag quipped, that being apprehensive about its chances of winning, the DMK feels it makes no difference what promises it makes?

B. S. Raghavan

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 31, 2006)
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