This Article is From Mar 18, 2014

Blog: Jayalalithaa's mixie-grinder gambit

For Jayalalithaa to emerge as a player on the national stage, perhaps even as a Prime Ministerial contender, she needs to win in Tamil Nadu. In the absence of any alliance this time, she is running on the sole strength of her two-year term so far as Chief Minister.

That record translates, broadly, into the delivery of a huge list of free handouts that she underlines in every election speech, as she did at a rally in Cuddalore that we attended. "I have given you free mixie grinders, goats, cows, gold for engagement ceremonies, washing machines, cycles and fans", she said.

In the villages of Cuddalore, near the rally venue, an AIADMK party worker showed us how the promised largesse is reaching the poor. 

Villagers lined up the handouts they have received for us to inspect:  home appliances, goats, cycles, laptops and more.

Each of these handouts come at a huge cost. The mixer-grinder-washing machine scheme costs Rs 3370 crores, the free cows and goats Rs 400 crores, a bonus for a Pongal festival of cash, saree and dhoti Rs 300 crores, free laptops Rs 2766 crores, free school bags Rs 128 crores, and so on.

This is apart from the expansion of food subsidies: 20 kg of rice for every family, which was being provided at Rs 1/kg, is now free In addition, Jayalalithaa has started Amma Kitchens, which sell subsidised cooked meals. The state's annual food subsidy bill is now Rs 4900 crores.

The AIADMK says that they are only extending a practise kickstarted by the DMK which handed out free TVs when they came to power in 2006.

In the 2011 state elections, the AIADMK promised an even bigger bonanza of handouts, and won. It is unclear whether that success can be repeated in the national election, now barely a month away. Voters in a Dalit village told us they might vote for the local Dalit Panthers party, known as the VCK, which is in alliance with the DMK. In another village, dominated by the Vanniyar OBC community, they said they might vote for the PMK, the party of Vanniyars.

Regardless, the competitive politics of 'freebies' is pushing Tamil Nadu's economy to a point of crisis. Spending on the social sector has quadrupled to a whopping Rs 56,800 crores in 2013 from Rs 14,300 crores in 2005. 

Tamil Nadu's debt has tripled from Rs 55,900 crores in 2005 to  Rs 1.74 lakh crores in 2014.

The AIADMK's spokesperson Dr V Maitreyan dismissed this saying there is no sign of a fiscal crisis.

But S Chandrasekhar, Associate Professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai, says "This madness has to stop somewhere. If a state government is growing at a healthy rate you can afford all this. But as I said the difference between the growth rate of the state and the growth in public debt, I mean there is not much difference at this moment so they cannot afford to give any freebies anymore." 

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