Blankets, pressure cookers and dinner sets, in exchange for what? Simple, a vote. Seldom can a politician ask for votes citing the good work he/she has done. The last resort for them is to distribute money, and freebies in the hope that the voter would remember it while casting his/her vote.
Freebies are not a new phenomena of course, it’s another added gimmick. A local resident who owns a small shop in West Shillong casually spoke about how almost all candidates have been distributing something or the other. “You know it’s election season when somebody or the other is coming home to give something. We got a new kitchen set along with some warm blankets,” he said while speaking to The Meghalayan.
It’s not an uncommon idea that politicians go door-to-door campaigning distributing cash along with other things, to lure the voters. Talking about long-term development goals through the public distribution system? No, that requires a lot of hard work, the idea is to take a shortcut to woo voters.
A college student, who also is a first time voter, confessed that he was shocked when he saw politicians trying to buy votes for petty cash. He kept mum initially about his voting choice, but after a brief silence, in a disappointed tone, he said, “I don’t know anymore. If this is how they win elections, how to make the right choice? Is it about choosing the least rotten apple from the lot?”
Parties round the state, both local and national, have indulged themselves in mud slinging at each other for distributing freebies to garner votes, some parties have promised them on their manifestos while some are just doing it unofficially.
A daily wage labourer very explicitly mentioned that he will vote for the candidate who offers more. As he stood his ground on that, he added, “We get to see these politicians once in five years, and with them comes the money, I do not have the luxury of thinking if it is fair or not. Anyway, after they win they will not do anything they promised, I might as well take whatever is being given to me.”
Freebies have become part and parcel of electioneering, however, the broader debate is if it is legal and ethical? With citizens accepting money and gifts, the grassroots are increasingly becoming corrupt. This practice is not normative, but is an integral part of campaigning.
However, the politically conscious class who keep themselves updated are of the opinion that freebies are only situational influencing. “In the age of social media and the internet, it is not as easy to influence a voter with these petty gifts. They might accept them but on the D-day they will vote for the person they want to,” said an academician.