Voters in an assembly election in the southern Indian state of Karnataka are being offered a range of free incentives by political parties, including electricity supply, food and money.
Between them, prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules Karnataka, and the Opposition Congress Party are offering inducements to more than 50 million voters in the closely contested election, which will be held on May 10th.
These include 200 units of electricity, milk, a monthly supply of 10kg of rice and cooking gas cylinders for religious festivals.
Monthly payments of the equivalent of €33 to all unemployed graduates, and half that amount to jobless diploma holders, are among the offers. .
According to news reports from Bangalore, women voters – who outnumber men in more than half of Karnataka’s 224 assembly constituencies – have been promised gold ornaments, pressure cookers, dinner sets and digital clocks, some of which were being distributed in complete violation of electoral laws and regulations.
One housewife from an assembly constituency in Bangalore told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency that she recently received a call from her local candidate’s party requesting her to come and collect a free dinner set.
“I first thought it was a prank, but when I went to check, the party was actually distributing dinner sets,” she said. .
In another Bangalore constituency, PTI revealed that a former state minister paid the life insurance premiums of a cross-section of voters in his constituency.
And cashing in on the Hindu religious sentiments of the majority of voters, political parties offered to finance pilgrimages to temples in the region. Others were promising free bus travel for women in cities across the state and secretly distributing alcohol to male voters.
Smaller parties such as the Janata Dal or People’s Party (Secular) which, according to polls was tipped to be the “decider” in the event of an indeterminate electoral outcome, and the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or the Common Man’s Party, were relatively modest in their election pledges.
The former has offered to provide five free cooking gas cylinders annually, an allowance of €67 for pregnant women for six months and a nearly three-fold increase in widows’ pensions to the equivalent of €28 a month. It has also promised to provide a one-time grant of €2,226 for women marrying farmers, in addition to distributing 600,000 bicycles and 60,000 electric-powered mopeds to female students.
The AAP which, according to opinion polls, has little or no chance of electoral success, has assured voters, if it is elected, 300 units of free power for domestic use, €33 in social security for unemployed youths, and unrestricted bus travel for students.
“In keeping with the recent trends, money (for parties taking part in Karnataka’s elections) is not a consideration,” said political analyst and commentor Kalyani Shankar. All parties are willing to spend vast amounts (in promising giveaways) to get elected, she added.
According to the federal Election Commission of India (ECI), which oversees the country’s state assembly and parliamentary elections, former aspirants are permitted to spend €44,524 to contest the polls.
But politicians and election experts said the lack of effective oversight had allowed candidates to flout these limits without fear of being caught or penalised. And since all parties were equally culpable in offering voters incentives, few complained to the ECI against their rivals.
Analysts, meanwhile, said the Karnataka elections, whose results will be known on May 13th, were politically critical as their outcome will, to a large extent, determine the prospects of the BJP and the Congress Party in general elections scheduled for early 2024.