As the din of the election campaign in Karnataka ebbed on Thursday evening, celebrations began in unlikely quarters – smart phone makers and tablet manufacturers. Political promises made by the BJP and the Congress party in their manifestos seem to have opened up the prospect of huge business opportunities for smart phone manufacturers. This is likely to serve as a ray of hope for mobile phone manufacturers in India that are struggling to compete with cheap sets imported from China. If the Congress party were to retain the state, mobile phone companies will be looking at bagging huge contracts as the party has promised to give “free mobile phones” to all young voters in the 18-23 years bracket. They constitute about 20 per cent of the six crore voting population in the state. In effect, domestic smart phone makers would get to produce at least 1.2 crore sets if the Congress were to come good on its commitment in the manifesto.
Smart phone makers may not be unhappy even if the BJP upstages the Congress. The BJP manifesto has promised “free smart phones” to all rural women below the poverty line. This would mean a one crore smart phone contract to Indian mobile makers. Competitive politics in Karnataka has gone beyond the promise of new business opportunities for telecom companies. BJP chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa’s promise of free laptops to all college students has enthused laptop makers.
Good news for smart phone manufacturers is coming in from other states as well. BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where elections are due later this year, have gone a step further. Companies like Lava, Intex, Lyf and Micromax could be beneficiaries if these states place huge smart phone orders as part of their strategy to win voter support. The move by the three states to place orders for about 15 million low-cost smart phones, apparently to be distributed before elections, is definitely a huge business opportunity while the BJP governments concerned expect to benefit electorally from the move.
Freebies have become the norm to entice voters and the southern states have definitely taken the lead in this regard. In particular, Tamil Nadu parties like the AIADMK and the DMK have earlier distributed sarees, cycles, fans, mixers, grinders and even free rice to win over voters. Nitish Kumar in Bihar provided cycles to girls students. The Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, under late chief minister NT Rama Rao, had provided the template for free rice, dal and oil in the early 90s.
In the Karnataka elections, the BJP promised Rs 50,000 and three grams of gold ‘mangal sutra’ for would-be brides. Freebies in different states range from loan waivers for farmers, low-cost homes, 24-hour free electricity and free education. The freebies are now going high-tech, if that can be said, and being translated into business opportunity for some companies. Populist political posturing is the name of the game. And, no political party appears to be giving much thought to how the promises would be honoured. Perhaps it is time to commission a study on election promises made by national and regional parties and the impact of such promises on states and central finances. There is no doubt that such a study will be an eye-opener in many ways. It may also succeed in triggering a debate on the need for extravagant poll promises.