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The need to move away from clientelism


A neoliberal economy encourages private capital and the market, while forcing the state to withdraw from welfare.

Even as the poor perceive the state as an arbitrator of their well-being and a facilitator for their mobility in all spheres of life, today’s political parties resort to unsolicited freebies to attract them.


GS-II: Governance (Government Policies and Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of policies, Transparency and Accountability)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding difference between welfare schemes and freebies
  2. Impact of freebie culture
  3. What is Populism and what is its impact?
  4. Judiciary on the culture of freebies
  5. Way Forward

Understanding difference between welfare schemes and freebies

  • Welfare initiatives include a targeted Public Distribution System, providing social security for labourers, quality education, fair employment, affordable healthcare, decent housing, and protection from exploitation and violence.
  • Freebies, on the other hand, are provided to attract voters to cast their vote in a particular election. They create limited private benefit for the receiver and do not contribute towards strengthening public goods/facilities.
  • Freebies could include offers such as free rations, TV sets, laptops to students, free rides for women in buses, free gas cylinders and stoves and so on.

Impact of freebie culture

  • Given the electoral effectiveness of the freebies culture, states seem to accord lesser importance to welfare initiatives and hence welfare measures have taken a back seat in terms of governance. There seems to be a withdrawal of the state in providing welfare measures such as social security, access to quality education and health, etc.
  • The impact has been all the more severe on the poor and marginalised communities due to denial of access to their rightful share of state resources. Freebies drastically widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
  • Freebies violate the constitutional mandate of extending benefits for public purposes and instead create private benefits.

What is Populism and what is its impact?

  • Populism is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.
  • Populism encourages mediocre political critics and affects critical and rational thinking, which are important to hold the people in power accountable.’
  • Unsolicited freebies cultivate a patron-client syndrome and encourage personality cults in a democratic polity. This does not augur well for a democratic polity.
  • The culture of freebies results in the treating of people like subjects whereas the democratic polity visualizes the citizens as being entitled to civil rights as constitutional guarantees.

What is clientelism?

  • Clientelism is a political or social system based on the relation of client to patron with the client giving political support to a patron (as in the form of votes) in exchange for some special privilege or benefit (freebies).
  • It is a populist measure that differs from welfarism.

Judiciary on the culture of freebies

  • The Supreme Court gave a ruling in favour of offering of freebies stating that freebies are not corrupt practice as it is mentioned in election manifesto.
  • In S. Subramaniam Balaji v. Govt. of Tamil Nadu (2013), the  court said that “Although, promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of Representation of People Act, the distribution of freebies influences the people shaking the root of free and fair elections.”
  • In 2021, The Madras High Court expressed its strong displeasure over the way in which political parties were competing with each other to garner votes by offering freebies.

Way Forward

  • There is an urgent need to tackle the freebie culture in India, given its negative impacts. Also, there needs to be a reorientation of public policy in a healthy direction.
  • The political party manifestos should offer programmatic policy interventions towards better public services than narrow private benefits in the form of freebies. They should focus on enhancing budgetary allocation for the maintenance of public infrastructures like schools, colleges, hostels and hospitals.
  • The Election Commission and the Higher Judiciary intervention can help in this regard. An informed and aware citizenry is a must to bring about this change.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023