Water, roads take backseat as parties shower freebies on voters this election


It's raining freebies and mega projects — at least in speeches — in prosperous and industrialised Gujarat, which is probably for the first time experiencing populist politics in the run-up to the assembly elections.

With Narendra Modi becoming one of the longest serving chief ministers in the country and the BJP completing 17 years of its rule in the state, the Opposition as well as rebels are showing signs of unrest like never before.

Unlike previous elections when water, piped gas and roads in coastal belts were promised, this time, the parties are wooing voters with free plots, cheaper houses, free laptops and even free electricity. More exiting offers are expected to come out soon.

The Congress set the ball rolling in August by announcing low-cost houses for poor and homeless women in urban areas as part of its 12-point election programme. Soon, former CM Keshubhai Patel-led Gujarat Parivartan Party offered free power supply to villages.

Buoyed by the tremendous response to its housing scheme, the Congress announced free residential plots to homeless women in rural areas. This was followed by announcement of free laptops for college students — if the party came to power.

In 2007, the party's promises were limited to free ration and colour television for below poverty line families. Then, the Congress had concentrated more on "adopting policies to boost economy", creating atmosphere of safety and harmony, and integrated policies on education, health, transportation and governance.

On the other hand, Modi has not promised any freebies so far, but has announced a series of populist measures like the government offering to become guarantor for youths seeking bank loan and relaxing the age limit for government jobs.

He even revived the Gujarat Housing Board soon after women in large numbers thronged centres set up by the Congress to distribute forms for its housing scheme.

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