Free TVs add colour to TN politics

Poll run-up

Free TVs add colour to TN politics

The distribution of colour TVs, initially meant for poor households who do not have one,  in the last four years has turned populism on its head, making it more popular than even the Re-1-per-kg cheap rice scheme for the below-poverty-line populace.

“We have prepared the list of households who are yet to receive a free colour TV in my areas and I want to finish the distribution before Deepavali,” said a DMK functionary here.

A list of “pending beneficiaries” is prepared irrespective of income or party tags. A day is fixed when a DMK bigwig or minister is called who happily gifts away the freebie to the families there, with smiling pictures in local papers to attest the event.  

“I already have a colour TV, but I accepted one more as all that I had to show was my family ration card,” said Raja Sekhar of Thousand Lights constituency, now represented in the Assembly by Deputy Chief Minister M K Stalin.

Sources in the DMK told Deccan Herald  that in pursuance of their 2006 Assembly election manifesto, when this scheme was launched on Annadurai’s birth anniversary by Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, the targeted section was only poor households who did not have a colour TV in their homes. The idea was to make DMK more women-friendly.

But soon, even in the scheme’s first implementation phase there were many complaints that colour TVs  went only to DMK men or those whom the local party boss wanted to be favoured.

To avoid the charge of political bias, the powers-that-be quietly fortified the scheme’s rationale with slogans like “to increase the aspiration level of the people”. Along with other freebies, the DMK hopes it will be a political jackpot of sorts to win votes across social divides.

Thus, in the fifth year of the scheme, the DMK now wants to cover “entire eligible households in Tamil Nadu”. All you need to have is a ration card to gain that eligibility. A 14-inch colour TV set thus became a big ticket item in the annual state budget, with Tamil Nadu having pumped in nearly Rs 3,493 crore in five phases since 2006. At a legislators’ meeting to finalise procurement of more colour TV sets on October 7, officials indicated that nearly 1.41 crore families have each got free colour TVs, against 1.58 crore sets procured.

With over 1.96 crore families in the state (as per February 2010 figures) having ration cards, the DMK is keen to cover all of them by January 2011. Hence the government decided that apart from the 40 lakh colour TVs being procured this year as budgeted for 2010-11, another 10 lakh sets will be purchased to bestow every family with a ration card this unique freebie.

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