ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Making Sense of ‘Freebies’


The controversy over seeking votes through the distribution of “freebies” has implicated the substantive political conception of the right to vote in its logic of polemics. As the editorial in the current issue of EPW points out, the Prime Minister has sought to critique the policy of freebies particularly adopted by the opposition-led state governments. The editorial also offers sound arguments in highlighting the inconsistency in such a critique of freebies. It is important to build on to the argument made in the editorial. The critique of freebies seems to be slipping into a dual articulation—rhetorical and polemical. At the rhetorical level, as the editorial under reference points out, in the perception of such a critique, the policy of freebies is detrimental to the material development of the nation. The critique, which appears to be purely rhetorical, suggests that using freebies tends to assume that voting has a contingent value—a value that could only be realised on the election day. Thus, voting, in such an argument, becomes valuable only through the exchange between the donor, that is, the party distributing the freebies, and the recipients, that is, a section of voters who are at the receiving end of such freebies. From this perspective, it is further suggested that such a trade-off works out only to benefit both the donors as well as the recipients.

At the polemical level, advancing the critique against the opposition often works as a boomerang. Put differently, polemics involves an interplay of evidence and counter-evidence. For example, those who are now criticising the culture of freebies have been held responsible by the opposition for using freebies for the allurement of the voters themselves. The logic of polemics, thus, would force the erstwhile proponents of voting without freebies to become its opponents. Of course, the grounds that have been offered by the Prime Minister are different and may look larger rather than narrow; for example, the grounds of economic growth and development. However, the spokespersons from the opposition-led state governments might use the same ground and defend the policy of freebies. They would argue that freebies are the result of the fruits of development. And that we share it with those who have contributed to such a development. But this may not resolve the issue.

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Updated On : 10th Sep, 2022
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