Freebies abound in the election manifestos of the ruling AIADMK and the Opposition DMK in Tamil Nadu that goes to the polls on 6 April. Distribution of freebies of any kind influences people and shakes the roots of a free and fair election to a large extent.

The Supreme Court in its judgment of 5 July 2013 in S Subramaniam Balaji vs the Government of Tamil Nadu and others directed the Election Commission of India to frame guidelines with regard to the contents of election manifestos in consultation with all recognized political parties in order to a ensure level playing field and also to ensure the purity of the election process does not get vitiated.

Article 324 of the Constitution mandates the EC hold free and fair elections.

The guidelines issued by the EC under para viii of the Moral Code of Conduct relating to manifestos say, “Political parties should avoid making promises which are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise, and in the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises should broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it.”

Trust of voters should be sought only on the promises which are possible to be kept. As extravagant promises were made in their 2016 election manifestos, the EC, by its order No 437/6/Manifesto/2016, advised both the AIADMK and the DMK to be “more circumspect and adhere to the provisions of the Moral Code of Conduct, particularly para viii of the guidelines relating to manifestos in future.”

Apart from vitiating free and fair elections, freebie distribution falls foul of Article 14 of the Constitution as there is no reasonable classification of the people. The right to equality requires the State must make a reasonable classification and must have a nexus with the object of the law. The EC’s 2016 censorship order had as much effect on the AIADMK and the DMK as pouring water on a duck’s back.

They have shown renewed enthusiasm for the freebie culture in their 2021 manifestos. The DMK has promised a monthly honorarium of Rs 1,000 for women heads of families if voted to power while the AIADMK increased it to Rs 1,500 a month if the party was retained in power. In addition, the AIADMK promised six free LPG cylinders a year and gold for the thali women wear and door delivery of rations. MC Sampath, Industries Minister, was so carried away by his party’s gender-oriented freebies that he said at an election rally in his Cuddalore constituency, that with all basic requirements met by the AIADMK government, “a situation will arise where women will not have to depend on husbands!”