ON 19 APRIL, the BJP unveiled its manifesto for the upcoming Assembly election. Among other things that the party promised to woo voters was 25 kg of rice at 1 per kg to poor families and free laptops to students. While these sops are aimed at attracting rural and urban voters, actual number crunching show that not much thought has been applied while making these promises.
There are more than 88.5 lakh Below Poverty Line (BPL) cardholders in Karnataka, and the BJP manifesto vaguely promises 25 kg rice per family but specifies neither the frequency of distribution nor the number of beneficiaries. “More than 38 percent of the people of this country earn less than Rs 65 per day. Giving them rice at 1 per kg is the most basic thing a state can do,” says DV Sadananda Gowda, former BJP chief minister.
However, analysts point at the subsidy bulge the state will have to incur in order to meet the expenses. Karnataka is quite close to the upper limit of the fiscal deficit, says Vikas Kumar, an economist who teaches at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru.
Interestingly, during the 2013-14 Budget presented by Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar in January, Rs 1,200 crore was already earmarked for food subsidy, which would have taken care among other things, the Rs 1 kg rice scheme. However, the Budget does not indicate the coverage of the rice scheme. “We cannot be sure if the amount stated was entirely for rice or other things like grain also,” adds Kumar.
The manifesto, which was released by senior BJP leader Arun Jaitely in the presence of Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, state unit BJP chief Prahllad Joshi, party General Secretary H N Ananth Kumar, also promises the distribution of free laptops to more than 16 lakh students, and free English speaking courses to students of Kannada-medium schools, to attract middle-class voters. With each laptop priced at Rs 25,000, the state exchequer would incur a cost of nearly 4,000 crore to meet its promise.
“Since the manifesto is vague, a precise analysis is not possible. For instance, it does not tell us whether all Pre-University College (PUC) or graduation students will get laptops in the first year after the election,” says Shantha Kumar, a developmental economist.
Based on whatever little they know from the manifesto and Budget, experts can say that the next government cannot meet the expenses of the proposed schemes within the bounds of the 2013-14 Budget.
Many pointed out that the promise of free laptops to students cannot be fulfilled easily. Citing Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s promise of distributing free laptops running into trouble, analysts point out that even one year after the Assembly polls, it has not been able to fulfil its key election promise.
“The free laptop scheme for students does not serve any purpose. The money can be spent on improving college infrastructure,” says Chandan Gowda, professor of political science at the Azim Premji University.
The BJP manifesto also promises to construct helipads in all taluk headquarters and a helicopter ambulance service. There are some schemes that were directly lifted from the party’s 2008 manifesto, many of which still remain on paper like opening a cyber café in every village.
The BJP hasn’t implemented many of the promises it had made in its 2008 manifesto, including direct election to elect the mayor of Bengaluru and a fixed five-year tenure for him. This promise finds a mention again in the 2013 manifesto.