New Delhi: A day after the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) opposed a petition in the Supreme Court that sought action against political parties for promising “freebies” before elections, the party’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday said free education, world-class healthcare and employment are fundamental rights and not freebies.
AAP has been defending its welfarist policy – such as promises to provide affordable healthcare and free electricity – since Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing an event last month, cautioned people against what he called the “revdi culture” of offering freebies for garnering votes, and called it “very dangerous” for the development of the country.
Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister, stressed on providing the best possible healthcare treatment to every citizen of the country and employment to youth. He said the country can’t progress until these basic necessities aren’t fulfilled.
“But it pains me to see people slander this school of thought by saying that the provision of free education must be stopped. I want to assert that giving quality education or public health care for free is not a freebie. It is a duty of a responsible government,” he said.
Kejriwal was speaking after unfurling the 500th high-mast tricolour in the capital.
He noted that there is a need to eradicate pariwarwaad (dynastic politics) and dostwaad (favouring friends). He slammed the Congress and the BJP, saying one party “exploited its power by spending public money on its family members and the other did so on its friends”.
“On the 75th Independence Day, we all must pledge to make India the number one country in the world. There are several such nations that attained independence after us yet surpassed our growth despite all the potential and hard work of our people.”
“We have to pledge to develop such a system where free excellent education, world-class healthcare and 100% employment become fundamental rights of the citizens,” he said at the event in Mayur Vihar in Delhi.
“Real freebies to politicians, corporates”
On Monday, AAP filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking to intervene in the PIL filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay against so-called “freebies”. Opposing the petition, it said the schemes for the socio-economic welfare of the deserving and disadvantaged masses cannot be described as “freebies”.
It said schemes for deserving and disadvantaged people cannot be considered handouts.
According to LiveLaw, the application – filed through advocate-on-record Shadan Barasat – said describing these schemes as ‘freebies’ – despite their “immense social utility and their impact on both the social and economic development of the country” – is not just incorrect but also an affront to India’s constitutional project.
The application said that numerous developed countries, particularly Scandinavian ones, have adopted socialist and welfarist models of development, allowing them to take significant leaps in performance across several markers of progress.
The real discussion on “freebies” should begin with the perks given to political classes, bureaucrats and big industrial houses and not with the welfare schemes given to vulnerable sections to ensure their constitutional right to have a dignified life, the application argued.
“The ministers, MPs and MLAs are given free housing in national and state capitals and other perks. If the Court wishes to go into the issue, there should be an assessment of the cost incurred by the State largesse given to political classes and big businesses,” it said, according to LiveLaw.
The party also alleged that the petitioner (Upadhyay) is attempting to use the device of public interest litigation to “camouflage” a thinly veiled attempt at furthering a particular political agenda.
The plea states that the petitioner has not disclosed his present or past ties with the BJP and instead introduced himself generically as a “social-political activist”.
“The applicant respectfully submits that the present Petition is not an instance of non-partisan litigation made in general public interest shorn of any personal or political motives. The petitioner himself has strong links to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), having served as its spokesperson and as a leader of its Delhi unit in the past. The petitioner’s frivolous petitions instituted in the name of public interest, often inspired by this party’s political agenda, have come under this Court’s criticism in the past,” the plea said.
The party submitted that Upadhyay’s petition, while referring vaguely to ‘freebies’, clearly seeks judicial action against a particular model of economic development by exclusively targeting fiscal expenditure on socialist and welfare measures for the masses.
The top court had on August 3 asked stakeholders like the Union government, NITI Aayog, Finance Commission and the RBI, to brainstorm on the “serious” issue of freebies announced during elections and put forth constructive suggestions to tackle it, saying no political party will oppose such handouts or like to debate it in Parliament.
The court had hinted at ordering setting up a mechanism for suggesting measures to the government to deal with the issue. The apex court had said all stakeholders should think about it and give suggestions so it could set up a body to address the issue.
‘Will promote patriotism’
Kejriwal hoisted the 166-ft high flag in Mayur Vihar to the tunes of a Homeguard Band and raised ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai, Inquilab Zindabad and Vande Mataram’ slogans before beginning his address.
“The goal behind this project is to invoke and inculcate deshbhakti in every citizen every day. I know everyone’s chest swells with pride to see the tiranga in its full glory. At the same time, the tiranga also reminds us of all the sacrifices that have been made by our forefathers to give it a free sky to fly in.”
“It reminds us of every drop of blood shed by our soldiers to protect the free sky it flies in. I am certain that even if someone leaves their house with an ill intention in their mind, this tiranga will stop them. 500 such tirangas have been installed all over Delhi,” he said.
He said the country doesn’t suffer from a lack of potential, hard work or intelligence but “from a lack of political willingness and intent”.
“Which is why we all must take the matter into our own hands to make India the strongest and the greatest nation in the world. But how will this country progress? We all must pledge to provide the highest quality of education to every child of the country irrespective of their economic status,” he said.
His deputy Manish Sisodia thanked Kejriwal as well as the PWD engineers, labourers and contractors “who made this ambitious dream a reality”.
“Be it our work on world-class schools, hospitals, zero bills for electricity, public transport, free treatment of accident victims, free water supply to increase tricolour’s honour. The government is doing every work which can increase the honour of the national flag,” he added.
Featured image: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Photo: Twitter/@AamAadmiParty
This article was first published on The Wire.