With the Assembly election fever gripping Tamil Nadu earlier than usual, the state government is on a spree to announce sops. The most recent one is the announcement of the cash gift of Rs 2,500 and kits to 2.6 crore beneficiaries through the public distribution system (PDS) shops for the harvest festival of Pongal.
Breaking the protocol, the announcement was made in an election campaign meeting of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Even worse, widespread allegations were raised over the tokens being distributed by members of the ruling party while the distribution events were held like the programmes of the AIADMK, and not the government. The employees union of the PDS shops lodged a complaint with the chief minister on alleged threats by AIADMK party members.
The same government refrained from extending cash relief to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic-enforced lockdown, in spite of demands pouring from across the society and recommendations of the Rangarajan committee, constituted during the unlock phase. The money from the exchequer is being used for political aspirations of the AIADMK, Opposition parties are saying.
AIADMK CADRES 'DISTRIBUTING' GOVT BENEFITS
The recent few weeks have witnessed a series of announcements from the state government including the inauguration of 2,000 mini clinics and signing of MoUs. The announcement of Rs 2,500 cash and a gift kit for eligible persons, incurring a total expenditure of Rs 5,600 crore, was made for the Pongal festival by CM Edappady K Palaniswami on December 19, 2020. The government gave Rs 1,000 till the last year for the Pongal festival.
Almost 2.6 crore PDS card holders, including around 19,000 Sri Lankan refugees and 3.75 lakh card holders from non-priority households (NPHH), are set to receive the benefit. Apart from announcing the launch of the benefits in an election campaign meeting, the AIADMK has taken over the distributions events, alleged the opposition parties.
M K Stalin, president of DMK tweeted, “We welcome the announcement of the pongal gift, but why the distribution works are taken over by the AIADMK cadres. The government must ensure the distribution by the PDS shop staff, without the interference of the ruling party members.”
AIADMK cadres celebrating the distribution from January 4 by bursting crackers and decorating the surroundings in front of PDS shops with party flags have been reported. The DMK cadres held protests in many parts of the state against the AIADMK cadres taking over the token distribution work.
Stalin also accused the AIADMK of announcing the gift keeping the upcoming elections in mind while no satisfactory relief was extended to the affected people during the lockdown and the Nivar cyclone. "The demands for a cash relief of Rs 7,500 for all families during the lockdown and Rs 10,000 relief for farmers during the cyclone went unheeded,” he tweeted.
TOKENS WITH IMAGES OF AIADMK MINISTER
The public was given the tokens while being informed about the time and date of their turn at the PDS shops to receive the Pongal gifts. In many parts of the state, including Chennai and Coimbatore, the tokens sported the images of the chief minister and ministers from the particular district.
These tokens were reportedly printed by the ministers themselves, replacing the government tokens. The DMK approached the Madras High Court against the practice and won their claim. The court ordered not to print symbols of any political party or party leaders in the tokens.
The workers of the PDS shops also alleged interference from the members of the ruling party in taking over the distribution work. The union of the PDS employees, Tamil Nadu Government Fair Price Shop Employee Union, wrote to CM Palaniswami to intervene in the matter. The union alleged that employees of the PDS shops were being threatened by members of the political party, without referring to the name of AIADMK.
DAMAGE CONTROL WITH PUBLIC MONEY?
The announcement of the Pongal gift has brought joy to ruling AIADMK cadres, as public opinion has been not in favour of the ruling party. The drubbing it suffered in the 2019 general elections and the internal squabbles between the CM and his deputy has raised doubts over the future of the party ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections.
The AIADMK is facing anti-incumbency after remaining in power for 10 consecutive years, with factors like support to the farm Bills, Citizenship (Amendment) Act, inability to seek exemption from NEET, etc. playing against the ruling party. Proximity of AIADMK with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not helped the state in receiving any benefits, the DMK has accused.
The recent months have seen widespread publicity by the AIADMK government to project itself as people-friendly. The recent advertisement blitz in daily newspapers and television channels could cost the exchequer a huge amount while the government relies more on borrowing. The announcement of a higher cash gift with the elections due in a few months is similar to bribing voters, the Opposition parties have alleged.