The Congress has promised more freebies than the BJP. But it’s the saffron party that took a stand against it.
The Bharatiya Janata Party in Himachal Pradesh might’ve not taken Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hint.
Just four months ago, Modi warned against “revdi culture”, or a culture of freebies, calling it a ruse to “gather votes” and “dangerous for the development of the country”. And then last month, addressing an audience in Madhya Pradesh, the PM said that “revdis” are a waste of the taxpayers’ money.
Although the Congress’s manifesto promises more freebies, the BJP too has promised a healthy amount of “revdis” if it wins Himachal Pradesh – Newslaundry’s conservative estimate pegs the number at over Rs 2,250 crore.
The saffron party’s freebies have been packaged as “women empowerment” in the manifesto released on Sunday by BJP president JP Nadda.
If elected, the BJP would spend Rs 500 crore to hand out a bicycle to all schoolgirls and a scooty to female graduate students in the state, Nadda said. His “double engine government” would also waive off additional GST taxes worth Rs 25 crore from the material used for apple packaging.
These freebies alone add up to Rs 525 crore.
The party has also offered Rs 2,500 every month to 5,000 girls who top class 12 in government schools – the sum will be given to the toppers throughout their graduation. Assuming the graduation lasts three years, Newslaundry calculated that the government will foot a Rs 45 crore bill.
The BJP chief added that nearly 10 lakh farmers in the state will receive Rs 3,000 every year as part of Mukhya Mantri Annadata Samman Nidhi. Over five years, Newslaundry calculated the cost of this farm income at Rs 1,500 crore.
Lastly, Nadda also promised three LPG cylinders for women from poor households enrolled in the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyaan Anna Yojana, or PM-GKAY.
Let’s arrive at the most conservative estimate for this promise. According to the government, Himachal has 28.6 lakh beneficiaries under PM-GKAY. But since Nadda only mentioned “poor households”, let’s avoid that gigantic number and stick to 2.82 lakh – the number of families below the poverty line in the hill state. Assuming all these families have one or more women, if elected, the BJP government will give them three free LPG cylinders (which costs an average of Rs 440 each after subsidy) every year. Over five years, this sop totals nearly Rs 186 crore.
Bring together the above numbers and the “revdis” in the BJP manifesto total to Rs 2,256 crore.
But as The Hindu reported, it is the Congress that is “banking on ‘freebies’ for Himachal polls”. The party has promised a sum of Rs 1,500 a month for women in the age group of 18 to 60. It also said that it would provide free electricity up to 300 units.
Himachal has a population of 33.8 lakh women, according to a projection by the Indian census. While the party has only added a filter of age group to dilute this number, Naresh Chauhan, the Congress spokesperson in Himachal, told Newslaundry that a team of experts will have to find additional exceptions. “There are female government employees as well as pensioners in the state,” he said. “We might not necessarily include those in this scheme.”
Even if the Congress extends this income to a tenth of the total female population, say, 3.38 lakh women, it will cost the state treasury more than Rs 3,000 crore over five years. On free electricity, Chauhan said that the party has estimated a total cost of Rs 400 crore to the exchequer.
The Congress’s freebies exceed that of the BJP. But the party has been unapologetic about them. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it had promised a universal basic income to India’s poor. It is the BJP, however, that has taken a stand against freebies. But its Himachal manifesto has not quite embraced the idea.
Newslaundry reached out to the BJP spokesperson in Himachal Pradesh. This report will be updated if we receive a response.