Opinion

Redemption time for the Tamil Nadu voter

NS Vageesh | Updated on April 03, 2021

Politicians, by creating and fostering a culture of free handouts, don’t realise there’s a gradual decline in the belief that hard work and thrift will take you ahead in life   -  The Hindu

The people have a chance to say no to the culture of freebies

On April 6, about 6.26 crore voters of Tamil Nadu will elect a new government. The polls are as much a test for them as for the government or even the opposition.

There’s this old film clip — very instructive for politicians and the electorate — that’s been doing the WhatsApp rounds. It has yesteryear actor MRR Vasu as an aspiring candidate for a panchayat presidency, mocking a rival who extols the virtues of hard work. He tells his sidekick with great self-assurance that the rival would bite the dust — as indeed any leader who dared to tell the truth to people. A small delegation of poor agricultural workers confronts Vasu and asks him about all the promises he made at the time of the previous election. Vasu readily admits to them and repeats those promises. When the labourers question him about his lack of performance and his corruption, he turns the table on them neatly and says that it is they who started it all. The labourers are furious.

He leads them through their actions. What did you do when I made these promises, he asks? Did you vote for me? The labourers retort that without their vote, he couldn’t have made it to victory. So, how about delivering? To which Vasu says with lethal counter punch — you didn’t vote for me when I made those promises. You voted for me after I gave you ₹10 per head. Our account is therefore settled. When the labourers again bristle, he elaborates: when you sold your valuable vote, something that changes the fortunes of many generations of citizens for a mere ₹10, you have already lost your right to question me.

This may be a film story, probably set in the early 1960s. But one has to use these parables to point to the perfidy of the Tamil voter. Isn’t this after all what the voter has done? If anything, the situation has worsened over the last few decades with just the amount of cash paid increasing. And, by accepting freebies and not stopping to wonder that the money for that is coming from their own coffers, they have just strengthened the hands of politicians who offer them candies and snatch away their rights.

Just see a sample of what is on offer from rival political formations this time. There are free houses, rice, telecom data, cable TV connection, sanitary napkins, washing machines, mixers, waiver of farm and education loans, subsidised electric bulbs, government jobs, subsidised motors, lower shop rents, cheaper gas, petrol and milk.

Vital issues missed

No one, of course, is talking about the fact that the outstanding debt of the State is estimated at ₹4.85-lakh crore for 2020-21, or that the revenue deficit in 2020-21 is expected to be a whopping ₹66,000 crore. Just making up for the past year’s Covid-induced slowdown is going to entail further borrowing, estimated at another ₹85,000 crore in the coming fiscal.

Politicians, by creating and fostering a culture of free handouts, don’t realise there’s a gradual decline in the belief that hard work and thrift will take you ahead in life. What is happening instead is the creation of generations of men and women who come born with the belief that they are entitled to something from the government — without having to offer anything in return. They are making it needlessly hard on themselves to govern, after winning. An electorate fed on the belief that someone else will deposit money into their bank accounts periodically, is not going to be motivated to work. What kind of work culture are you then fostering? And that too, when both formations claim to be steeped in rational thought.

As the wise Rajaji pointed out with remarkable foresight almost a 100 years ago, a full 26 years before Independence, “Elections and their corruptions, injustice, and the power and tyranny of wealth and inefficiency of administration will make a hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us. Men will look regretfully back to the old regime of comparative justice, and efficient, peaceful, more or less honest administration. The only thing gained will be that as a race we will be saved from dishonour and subordination.”

Whatever has happened in the past few decades have proved him right. The Tamil Nadu voter gets one more chance at redemption next week.

(The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist)

Published on April 03, 2021

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