Opinion | Why PM Modi warned about ‘shortcut’ freebie politics?

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday made a politically significant remark about what he described as “shortcut politics”. Addressing a BJP rally in Deoghar, Jharkhand, after launching projects worth Rs 16,800 crores, Modi said, “people should stay away from the ideology of shortcut politics, as this can cause short circuit and can ruin the country.”

The Prime Minister’s remarks must be viewed from the anarchy that is prevailing in Sri Lanka and several state governments which are giving away freebies. Modi said, “I want to caution everybody about the challenge of shortcut politics that we are facing. It is very easy to make populist promises and collect votes through shortcut methods. Such leaders do not have to toil at all, nor do they have to think about the long-term consequences of populism. But it is a fact that that a country that adopts shortcut politics, faces a short circuit someday or the other. Shortcut politics can ruin the nation.”

Modi said, “In India, we should remain away from such shortcut politics. If we must take India to great heights in the 100th year of our independence, then we should toil harder to achieve this. There is no shortcut to toil. After independence, political parties that were dominant, adopted too many shortcuts. The result was, countries that achieved freedom with India, moved far ahead, and we could not progress much. Today we should save our country from such old mistakes.”

The Prime Minister said, “Let me give an example about electricity, which is very essential, even in our villages. If we do not have electricity, we cannot recharge our cellphones, nor can we watch television, nor can we start pumps to provide water to each house. If we do not have electricity, we may have to go back to the age of using kerosene. Factories will close and workers will lose jobs, if there is no electricity. But we cannot produce electricity through shortcuts”.

Modi said, “In Jharkhand, we had to invest thousands of crores to set up power plants. Such investments provide new jobs and new opportunities. Political parties, which adopt shortcuts, squander away that money in order to get votes. Such methods can harm the nation’s progress.”

“From the deepest of my heart, I would appeal to our countrymen to stay away from shortcut politics. Leaders who indulge in shortcut politics, will not build new airports or modern highways or new AIIMS hospitals or medical colleges in each district for you. ..In Jharkhand, I have launched several highways. It is very easy to tell people that people won’t have to pay for bus tickets or auto fares. It can sound populist, but such shortcuts can ruin the state’s economy. If government does not get money, from where will funds come for building new roads and highways.”

Why did the Prime Minister say this? To which electricity freebies was he referring to? To which political parties in India was the Prime Minister referring to? Was he indirectly pointing towards the economic collapse of Sri Lanka? We have seen how the people of Sri Lanka are yearning for food, fuel and essential commodities.

Modi is right when he says that freebies are not good for a healthy economy, they are not good for citizens who pay taxes, and for the government which has to implement welfare schemes for poor people.

In Delhi, Aam Aadmi Party government is providing free electricity up to 200 units and free water up to 20,000 litres per month, and in Punjab, the AAP government has announced it will provide free electricity up to 300 units from July 1.

The Punjab government is under a huge loan burden of Rs 3 lakh crores. It does not have money to repay interest on loan taken, but in order to garner votes, AAP leaders promised free electricity, and swept the elections to form their government. The free electricity will lead to incurring a fresh burden of Rs 5,000 crore on the state exchequer. Power generation companies will collect full tariff from the government.

In April, NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chandra said, if freebies like free power and electricity, and farmers’ loan waiver schemes continued, India could face a similar crisis that Sri Lanka is facing right now. It was towards this challenge that the Prime Minister was pointing at his Jharkhand rally. Freebies can make a nation bankrupt, as it happened in Sri Lanka. Though Modi did not name Sri Lanka, his warnings will have to be viewed in the light of what is happening in that neighbouring country.

Sri Lanka has a 2.25 crore population, almost the same as that of Delhi, but the Sri Lankans are now facing severe food and fuel shortage. They do not have cooking gas and petrol, and the prices of rice, wheat and all essential commodities have skyrocketed. One kg of milk powder costs Sri Lankan Rs 2,900. A litre of palm oil or mustard oil sells at Rs 3,000. Tomatoes are being sold between Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 a kilo. Wheat is being sold at Rs 400 to 500 a kg, while rice is being sold at Rs 600 a kg.

India TV correspondent T. Raghavan, who is presently in Colombo and is reporting live from Ground Zero, says, one LPG cylinder is available for Rs 5,000. One has to wait for 12 days to get a cylinder. There is rationing of petrol up to three litres per person, and that too, is available after waiting in queues for ten days.

These facts are truly worrying, and Sri Lanka is fast entering a period of nationwide anarchy. President Gotabaya Rajapkse has fled to Maldives, thousands of protesters have occupied the Prime Minister’s office and state television headquarters. The common people are blaming Rajapakse family for bringing the country to ruin.

In the Rajapakse dynasty, Gotabaya was the President, Mahinda was the PM, Mahinda’s brother Chamal Pajapakse was irrigation minister, his brother Basil Rajapakse was finance minister, and Mahinda’s son Namal Rajapakse was the sports minister. The Rajapakse family was ruling this island nation.

Rajapakse lowered taxes, implemented populist schemes, the exchequer was empty and fresh currency notes were printed, and billions of dollars of loans were taken from abroad, mainly China. The government is now bankrupt. Most of the leaders have either fled the country or are underground.

We, in India, should learn from what happened in Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been, time and again, cautioning us about dynastic politics, which has harmed the nation. He has also cautioned us about freebie shortcut politics. When the state exchequer runs out of money, public welfare schemes are stopped, and then people come out on the streets, as it happened in Sri Lanka. The Rajapakse family was in control of government, armed forces and bureaucracy, and in order to garner votes, the family was disbursing freebies and getting popular votes in return. The consequence: Out of 2.25 crore Sri Lankans, nearly 25 lakh people are starving. They do not have food to eat.

The rest of the population, mainly from middle and lower middles classes, are struggling to make both ends meet. A packet of biscuit costs Rs 150 and a litre of milk costs Rs 500. Children are unable to buy biscuit and milk. Dynastic and shortcut politics are the bane of a nation’s economy. Sri Lanka is moving fast towards anarchy. Let us learn from the Sri Lankan crisis.

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