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With parties locked in fierce fight to win polls, CEC warns against freebies

Voters have “a right to know from where [the money for] freebies [will] come”, the Election Commission said Monday morning as it announced dates for the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram Assembly elections. The final round of polls for the year begins in Mizoram on 7 November and ends in Telangana on 30 […]

Voters have “a right to know from where [the money for] freebies [will] come”, the Election Commission said Monday morning as it announced dates for the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram Assembly elections.

The final round of polls for the year begins in Mizoram on 7 November and ends in Telangana on 30 November. Results are due 3 December.

“Announcements of freebies always have ‘tadka’ of populism… the public has a right to know from where [the money for] freebies [will] come,” Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar said. Mr Kumar also said that nearly 1,000 checkpoints had been set up along state borders to check the flow of liquor, cash and drugs. “There will be zero tolerance for use of money power and there will be strict vigil over suspicious online cash transfers…,” he told reporters on Monday morning.

Kumar said the matter was at present sub-judice and the poll panel will act as soon as clarity and decision is available on this. He recalled that the EC had recently brought out a proforma for parties and states to explain how and when the promises made by them in their poll manifesto will be implemented. “Some announcement in one state and some other announcement in others. I don’t know why it is not remembered for five years and all announcements are made in the last one month or 15 days. Anyway, that is the domain of the state governments,” he said.

The proforma states that while parties are free to tell what they will do, the voters have a right to know how it will be implement and how much and when it will be done, he pointed out. Parties and state were asked about the debt to GDP ratio, interest payment to total revenue and whether they will breach the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) targets.

The governments were also asked whether they will reduce some of the schemes to implement what has been promised in the manifesto, and whether there will be an extra burden of tax on the people.

In the meantime, a fierce competition among parties to offer guarantees, a scramble for tribal, OBC, women votes while trying to retain Hindu votes all have combined to make the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls a high-stakes battle with main rivals BJP and the Congress pulling out all the stops to gain power.

After a close contest in 2018, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress are marshalling all resources at their disposal to notch a clear majority in the 230-member House to avoid post-result complications.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan recently announced empowerment schemes targeting women, while state Congress president Kamal Nath is countering his rival’s doles with his own pre-poll guarantees and wooing OBC voters. With a long history of bipolar politics, dominated by the Congress and the BJP, Madhya Pradesh will also see the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) trying to make its presence felt in the state this time around.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is trying to regain its lost voter base in the state, where it had committed Dalit electors and pockets of influence for decades.

At a time when four-term BJP Chief Minister Chouhan and his rival Nath are fighting the toughest electoral battle of their political careers, Delhi CM and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal is going all out to see that his outfit puts up a convincing show and wins a good number of seats.

Kejriwal along with Punjab CM Bhagwant Singh Mann has visited MP and addressed four rallies since March and announced plenty of freebies like free education, medical care and electricity to win over voters and take on the well-entrenched parties like the BJP and the Congress.

GUARANTEES VS PROMISES IN MADHYA PRADESH

Shivraj Singh Chouhan, BJP: Hiked Ladli Behna Yojana from Rs 1,000 a month to Rs 1,250 and then to Rs 1,500 (proposed) for 1.32 crore women in the state. The state government has earmarked a whopping Rs 16,000 crore for the scheme targeted at women from financially weaker sections. It has promised to raise the financial aid to Rs 3,000 per month gradually.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress: Kick started her party’s campaign with a rally in Jabalpur on 12 June where she announced Rs 1,500 per month to eligible women under the ‘Nari Samman Nidhi’ if her party is voted to power. She also announced 100 units free electricity to every household and LPG cylinders at Rs 500 each. Priyanka Gandhi said the old pension scheme would be brought back for MP government employees if the Congress came to power.

OPPOSITION’S STRATEGIES

• The Congress has been raising slogans like “50% commission ki sarkar” to allege massive graft under the BJP rule.
• Mallikarjun Kharge has been focusing on 35 seats reserved for SC candidates.
• Former CM Kamal Nath has been agressively wooing OBCs who make up 45% of state population.
• Apart from promising to restore 27% reservation for the OBCs, the Congress has assured a caste-based census in MP and support for OBC quota within the Women’s Reservation Bill.
• The party has launched ‘Jan Aakrosh Yatras’ (public outrage marches) to cash in on what it sees as voter resentment against the BJP. The BJP has already completed its ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatras’ (marches to seek people’s blessings) and come up with the slogan ‘abki bar 150 par’ (victory in more than 150 seats this time).

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