While the TRS government in Telangana is taking on BJP politically over the current row on freebies, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP government in Andhra Pradesh is keen to wage a legal battle.
The YSRCP has filed a petition to implead itself as a party in a case in the Supreme Court that is considering adverse effects of freebies.
The politics of ruling parties in both the Telugu states revolve around welfare schemes. Both the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) have launched a plethora of schemes benefitting socially and economically backward sections of the society.
K. Chandrasekhar Rao-led TRS government justifies its stand on the ground that since 80 per cent of Telangana's population comprises weaker and backward sections, they need helping hand in the form of welfare measures.
Political analysts point out that Jagan Mohan Reddy floated YSRCP on the plank of welfarism. He had promised to usher in 'Rajanna Rajyam', a reference to the rule of his late father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who was popularly known as YSR. As the chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh between 2004 and 2009, YSR introduced several path-breaking welfare schemes like free electricity for farmers, health insurance for the poor and fee reimbursement.
Political analyst P. Raghavendra Reddy pointed out that the success formula of both TRS and YSRCP have been welfare schemes. "The Prime Minister's statement on the issue will certainly not go down well with the two parties in power in the Telugu states. While KCR has taken an aggressive stance, Jagan too, whose governance model is centred around welfare schemes, has no option but to speak against the Prime Minister's statement," he said.
The YSRCP won the massive mandate in 2019 on the plank of 'Nava ratnalu' or nine gems, as the party called its promise of welfare schemes.
Jagan Mohan Reddy claimed to have fulfilled 95 per cent of the poll promises by implementing welfare schemes for various sections. He recently declared that in the last three years his government handed out a sum of Rs 1.62 lakh crore under various schemes.
The ongoing debate on freebies put the spotlight on the funds being allocated to welfare schemes by the YSRCP government.
During 2021-22 alone, the government credited Rs 55,000 crore through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) and spent another Rs 17,305 crore on non-DBT schemes.
The Jagan Mohan Reddy government came under criticism from some quarters for the doles despite the precarious finances of the state and mounting debts.
Like TRS in the neighbouring state, YSRCP is also looking to use the welfare schemes to win another term in power. At YSRCP plenary last month, Jagan Mohan Reddy warned that all welfare schemes being implemented by his government would be stalled if the YSR Congress lost power in the 2024 general election
The YSRCP chief stated that a vote for Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) will be a vote against the welfare schemes. He exhorted his party rank and file to alert the people on this.
Amid the ongoing debate, YSRCP parliamentary party leader V. Vijaya Sai Reddy said last week that the schemes offered by the state government are not freebies but 'social investment'. He called it an investment for the future.
It is in this context that YSRCP filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court pleading to be added as a party to the writ petition seeking a prohibition on political parties announcing freebies during election campaigns.
BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Upadhyay has filed the plea seeking a direction to seize the symbol or deregister a political party that promises 'irrational freebies' before elections.
YSRCP argues everything cannot be generalised as freebies as an elected government has the responsibility to deliver schemes to end poverty, provide healthcare, education and jobs.
The party is of the view that programmes that are implemented only to lure voters should be termed as freebies, but painting schemes of vast socio-economic importance implemented to alleviate prevailing distress with the same brush is an insult to the Constitutional mandate.
It took objection to some state schemes being termed freebies. "The Andhra Pradesh state government programmes such as Ammavodi, Rythu Bharosa, etc., have unfortunately been referred to as freebies. With total disregard to the purpose or the impact of these programmes, they are reduced to being described as populist measures," YSRCP said in its affidavit.
The party said in its affidavit that it is indeed true that there are some political parties that formulate and introduce programmes to reap political dividends and called for stringent action against such political parties as it would prevent political parties from behaving irresponsibly.
"On the other hand, there are political parties that have formulated programmes after careful deliberations and with absolute clarity as to the intended objectives of those programmes, made commitments to the voters prior to the elections and are implementing those committed programmes after coming to power with utmost sincerity despite several obstacles. Such political parties are working hard with an aim not devoid of merit. In this scenario, it would be unfair to generalize and describe those welfare programmes as freebies," it added.
"Elected governments must be afforded the latitude to formulate interventions and determine their quantum and the time period for which they (the programmes) are to be implemented to achieve the desired socio-economic outcome. This is owing to the reason that it is the elected representatives that have a real understanding of the prevailing distress and the real reasons causing that distress," the affidavit stated.
The YSRCP also submitted to the Supreme Court that the state bifurcation in the year 2014 had caused widespread economic deprivation in the successor state of Andhra Pradesh, and owing to the inequitable reorganisation, the successor state inherited 58 per cent of the combined state's population but only 45 per cent of the combined state's revenues. Further, the policy paralysis in the state during the period 2014-19 resulted in many crucial sectors such as education, health and agriculture, demonstrating poor performance and thus it was essential that the new government in which the people have reposed faith, implement impactful programmes to mitigate the distress.
The YSRCP argues that it would not be appropriate to regard the initiatives of the governments formulated in adherence to the principles fundamental to governance, enunciated in Part IV of the Constitution of India, in areas such as education, health, woman empowerment, agriculture, housing, poverty upliftment and support to the old and needy, as freebies.
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