New Delhi, Nov. 21: Promising freebies may fetch political rewards, but it makes for bad economics.
Some sections in the Congress are beginning to learn from their experience in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra ' where they have failed to deliver on tall pre-poll promises ' and are pointing out that Manmohan Singh himself thinks good economics can also be good politics.
The Prime Minister's views have assumed significance as the Congress or Congress-led coalition governments in Punjab, Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra knock at the Centre's doors to help them implement some contentious and costly poll pledges.
In Punjab, the Congress has been embarrassed by its inability to implement its poll promises of free power and water to farmers. Similar pledges in Andhra and Maharashtra have gone unfulfilled.
With this in mind, the Congress leadership may avoid promising freebies in Haryana, which goes to the polls with Bihar and Jharkhand next February. As it mulls an attractive poll manifesto in the northern state, the Congress high command thinks tall promises are unnecessary since it is confident of wresting power from Om Prakash Chautala.
It also believes pledges that cannot be honoured should be avoided ' though it is not clear if this results from not being able to deliver on past promises. Influential sections in the Congress think the party should learn from past experience and fight elections on realistic poll pledges.
Already facing the pressure due to budget constraints, Andhra chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy reportedly sought Central help for his free-power-for-farmers election-time pledge ' his plea was disguised as a call for drought relief. But the Singh government has made it clear it cannot be expected to shoulder the burden.
At a meeting yesterday with southern chief ministers in Bangalore, Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia put paid to any hopes Reddy had of getting central support for his costly freebies.
Around the same time, Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, dashed chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's hopes of getting central support for his pledge to provide Maharashtra's farmers free power. Chavan said in Mumbai that the Deshmukh regime would have to fend for itself in implementing costly pre-poll promises.
Privately, senior Congress leaders admit the party central leadership is in no position to bail out state governments since the 'Centre has its own set of compulsions to work towards a prudent fiscal management system'.
A party leader said 'we don't think the Congress president would encourage the tendency amongst state Congress leaders to make unrealistic poll promises, particularly now that the party is in power at the Centre'.