Desperate poll push

The formation of Telangana state is not the only eleventh hour decision of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

If the formation of the 29th state of the Indian Union has come under most controversial circumstances, no less questionable are some other decisions, which have been hurried through to bolster the Congress’ prospects in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. It is a different matter whether a last minute populist streak would electorally help the Congress or not, but the demoralisation set in the party rank and file after the recent round of assembly elections is so widespread that the leadership is ready do anything to try if the situation can be reversed before the parliamentary elections.

So, on Friday, the Union cabinet went further on its roll back of the restrictions it had imposed on buying cooking gas cylinder. Now, consumers will not only get 12 subsidised cylinders a year, they are also free to buy more than one a month. The same day, the government extended a pre-poll largesse to 50 lakh Central government employees and another 30 lakh pensioners. It announced a dearness allowance hike of 10 percentage points to enhance the DA rate to 100 per cent, and mandated the Seventh Pay Commission to merge 50 per cent of the DA with basic – a measure that is expected to increase the employee salary by at least 25 per cent over the existing levels. It is a different matter that the measure will cost the tax payer at least Rs. 12,000 crore in additional burden.

The decisions like these or others such as the one to increase work under the UPA’s rural job scheme from 100 to 150 days annually should have been ideally announced 10 days ago when the finance minister presented interim budget in Lok Sabha. It appears that the party is entertaining all sorts of after-thoughts to take decisions if, in its perception, they can help improve its dwindling appeal among the voters. In fact, the electoral considerations even prompted the cabinet to announce a rail coach factory in Kolar town of Karnataka, for which there was no provision in the recent rail budget or money with the Central exchequer. While there may not be anything in law that forbids the government on pre-election populism, there are certainly issues of propriety and it required President Pranab Mukherjee to quietly restrain the government.

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