Parties favour poll freebies, EC for guidelines

New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) There is nothing wrong with the promise of freebies to voters in election manifestos, said various political parties Monday though some opposed the practice as the Election Commission discussed the issue with their representatives to frame guidelines.

While Communist Party of India leader D. Raja said making such promises was not against the constitution, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said it was opposed to "any intervention" in an election manifesto.

"We do not find anything wrong with political parties promising anything to people. It is allowed in the constitution. Political parties can decide how they can provide people particular things that are needed," Raja told reporters.

Stressing it was "opposed to any intervention by any external authority, body or agency in the content of the election manifesto", the CPI-M said it was not possible to define the word 'freebies'.

"What is wrong if a party promises, if it comes to power, free education up to the secondary stage or free health care or distribution of land to the landless? All promises on any matter can be interpreted as 'freebies'," it said in a statement.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the matter should be left to the voters.

"There should be discussion on the misuse of money power. But as far as giving things to people is concerned, it is best left to the wisdom of people," he said.

"A political party which promised TVs and free cable connections was defeated in the south," Prasad said, noting that such promises alone did not sway voters.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa said the Supreme Court's observation in the freebies case was not "appropriate to a large extent" and held it is the people who should decide on the practicability of implementing poll promises and not authorities like the Election Commission.

She set out her stand in a reply Aug 10, the text of which was released to the media in Chennai Monday, to the poll panel's Aug 2 letter.

"In a democracy, political parties should be given the liberty to formulate their ideology, intention and programmes to be implemented when they come to power," she said.

T.R.Baalu, the leader of DMK in parliament, contended it is not necessary to bring any guidelines to prepare the election manifestos of the political parties over and above the existing model code of conduct.

However, PMK's representative R.K.R.Anantharaman, who attended the meeting in Delhi, said freebies do not improve the living standards of the poor.

Also opposing freebies, DMDK chief A.Vijayakant urged the poll panel to take action against all political parties which had announced freebies in the recently-held assembly elections.

In Tamil Nadu, rhe AIADMK government is handing out free laptops, mixers, grinders and other things to the poor; the earlier DMK government in the state gave away free colour television sets.

The apex court in a case filed by Chennai advocate S.Subramaniam Balaji against freebies by the DMK and the AIADMK governments, had held the practice "undoubtedly, influences all people" and affects free and fair elections "to a large degree".

Concerned over the matter, the Election Commission Monday consulted political parties on guidelines on freebies in election manifestos after being asked to do so by the apex court July 5.

Noting that some political parties had already given their written suggestions, Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath urged the remaining parties to give their views within a week.

All the six national parties attended the meeting along with 24 state out of the total 45 who were invited.

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