New Delhi August 12;Major political parties barring the Bahujan Samaj Party on Monday opposed any restriction on them in announcing freebies in election manifestos, claiming that this was their prerogative.
The Election Commission had convened a meeting of various national and regional political parties convened to seek their views on the issue of freebies offered by them in poll manifestos and framing of guidelines thereof.
Representatives of five national and 23 regional parties attended Monday’s meeting and conveyed their respective party stands on the issue of framing of guidelines on election manifestos by the poll body.
Except for BSP, all major national political parties were unanimous in their views that there should be no restriction of any kind in regulating election manifestos.
The BSP said that there should be a ban on announcing freebies by parties ahead of polls as they disturb the level-playing field as voters can be lured by such promises of allurements which may not be implemented later.
Sources said among the regional parties, only two — Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) and Mizo National Front (MNF), are in favour of banning freebies and framing guidelines in this regard and all others are opposed to the move.
Claiming that it is the right of parties to announce poll manifestos, the Congress, BJP and Left parties are on a common platform in opposing the Election Commission move in the wake of the Supreme Court judgement asking the Commission to frame guidelines on poll manifestos to regulate freebies.
The EC wishes to formulate a clear policy on defining freebies announced by parties ahead of elections and has studied practices adopted by different nations in this regard.
The Commission has felt that offering of freebies by parties ahead of polls disturbs the level-playing field and may vitiate the atmosphere.
The Supreme Court while disposing of a special leave petition on July 5, challenging the freebies announced by the Tamil Nadu government, had asked the Commission to frame guidelines about such promises announced by political parties in their manifestos.
Parties have in recent times offered free power, laptops, TV sets, bicycles and other household items to voters in their manifestos and such populist measures have proved a huge burden on the finance of states.
Political parties have been arguing that the benefits announced were meant for the welfare of the poor and were required to bring equity in society.
Opposing the EC move, Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) said, “every political party has the right to put forth its vision in its manifesto on what kind of nation it wants. It is the right of the public to decide which political party can run the nation honestly.”
He said there are a number of welfare programmes for various sections, including free laptops, bicycles or free medicines for the poor, which help the poor.
“In a democracy, it is the responsibility of parties to put forth their vision of the nation. It is the abuse of money power that the EC should take more effective steps to curb,” he said.
“The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is opposed to any form of intervention by any authority, agency or body in the formulation of the ideology, aims, policies, programmes of political parties. The democratic polity of the country is based on political party system and free and fair elections,” said a CPI(M) statement.
It added that, “Any infringement on the right of expression by intervention by any authority, body or agency will cut at the root of the political party system and free and fair elections. It is the prerogative of the political parties to decide its aims, policies and programmes.”
Party leader A.K. Padmanabhan said, “Election Commission or even judiciary has no right to intervene in the contents of the election manifesto. It is the prerogative and the right of the political party concerned and no intervention can be allowed. That we have made clear.”