Shocking Truth About Political Populism: How Good Intentions Lead Us Astray!

Perhaps our political leaders either fail to acknowledge the wisdom of the proverb warning that good intentions can lead to unfortunate outcomes, or, more likely, they consider wisdom an unnecessary burden in the world of politics, where expediency often takes precedence. Following the Congress party’s victory in the Karnataka Assembly elections, their implementation of populist promises has not only strained the state’s finances, doubling the fiscal deficit and burdening the exchequer with approximately Rs 50,000 crore, but it has also reportedly caused significant disruption to the coffee plantation industry.

These early indicators reveal the harmful consequences of populism, and regrettably, this damage is not confined to a single political party or state; all political entities seem to indulge in it. What’s even more concerning is that the adverse effects of competitive populism extend beyond the economy to affect society and culture.

According to a report in The Times Of India, the Congress party’s election giveaways in Karnataka are potentially leading to a labor crisis in the farming sector, with some skilled workers opting for unemployment benefits or making new demands such as higher minimum wages, additional benefits, and reduced working hours. Coffee plantations, which employ around 500,000 out of the 3 million farm workers, are already grappling with a shortage of eligible laborers due to benefits like 10kg of free rice, Rs 2,000 monthly stipends for female heads of households, free bus rides for women, and 200 units of free electricity. Bose Mandanna N., former vice-chairman of the Coffee Board of India, pointed to these “freebies” as the cause of the sudden labor shortage and warned of potential challenges for the plantation business if this trend continues.

It doesn’t require an economist to understand that a decline in this sector will have negative repercussions on other industries and the overall economy, affecting the people of the southern state. Unfortunately, these realities rarely, if ever, factor into the calculations of politicians.

Politicians often overlook the economic, social, and cultural impact of their policies. For instance, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, facing anti-incumbency, introduced the Mukhyamantri Kanya Vivah/Nikah Yojana among other welfare schemes for women, aimed at facilitating the marriages of underprivileged women. While this scheme may provide much-needed assistance to disadvantaged women, it inadvertently perpetuates the stereotype that the girl child is a financial burden on her family—a stereotype deeply rooted in our society and reflected in everyday language, movies, advertisements, and more.

It is crucial for the government to work towards changing this grim reality or, at the very least, avoid perpetuating such stereotypes. Unfortunately, propriety, like wisdom, appears to be a burden that many politicians are unwilling to bear.

In another example, prior to the Assembly election in Uttarakhand last year, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal promised a ‘Tirth Yatra Yojana’ if his party emerged victorious in the Himalayan state. Interestingly, a similar scheme already existed in the national capital. His proposal included facilitating free visits to Lord Ram in Ayodhya for Hindus, to Ajmer Sharif for Muslims, and to Kartarpur Sahib for Sikhs.

Leave a Comment