With Election Commission announcing the dates for the five Assembly elections — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram — the issue of freebies has once again come to the limelight. The Election Commission (EC) itself was quite forthright in its view on this vexatious issue.

Knowing full well that all the parties involved will be making election promises, the EC has asked them come out with details of how they are going to fund the promised schemes. This, the poll panel believes, will help the voter make an informed decision on the viability or feasibility of the schemes promised by the parties.

The EC also proactively came out with a proposal for a standardised proforma to be added with the Model Code of Conduct to ensure that authentic information is provided on the financial aspects of “election promises made by the parties”.

All these are laudable objectives for which the EC must be commended. Given the impact these promises have on State finances, the voters do have a right to know where the money for the schemes is going to come from. To say that the lay voter cannot understand the knotty issues of State finances is being patronising.

Legal side

There is a legal side to the freebie issue too. A petition seeking the ban on freebies has been referred to a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court. On a plea that public funds were being “misused on irrational freebies” ahead of elections, the Supreme Court on October 6 directed the States of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to respond to this.

Apart from the economic factor, this issue is also deeply enmeshed in political and social factors. Indian political parties have for long developed a “patron-client” relationship with the voters, which is often nurtured through these freebies. But ultimately the issue of freebies exposes some deep-seated faultlines of Indian society — inequality and the inability to create secure, well-paying jobs.