The Problem with Free Giveaways : Indian Politics and Marketing in a Nutshell

When Reliance JIO entered Indian Market and took the telecom sector by storm by giving free data to every subscriber, their motto was Digital empowerment of the people of India. When recently Punjab Governments announced that the state will burden all costs of education of all women, their motto was woman empowerment. But deep-down the motto is marketing their party or a brand to bring audiences back. But the process of giving things away is not sustainable in long term and when the Free giveaways stop, are we really more empowered?

For a country, which is the sixth-largest in the world measured by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity , which is classified as a newly industrialised country, and one of the G-20 major economies, with an average growth rate of approximately 7% over the last two decades, we the Indians still can’t get enough of free giveaways.When the world that is fast moving towards quality, we still tip our scales towards quantity. This mentality of us does not come from the fact that we are cheap people but comes from the fact that we have seen hardships. We know the value of assets. This is inherently a character trait we as a community inherited from our ancestors when India after being sucked for 200 years by British finally got a taste of economic freedom. For a while subsidies were required to lift the unfortunate, to bring back the balance in society. Almost 60 years have passed since our Independence Indian market and politics is still driven by same subsidized economy for 60 years.

Almost 60 years have passed since our Independence, but when I see Indian market and politics is still driven by same subsidized economy for 60 years I have to consider something must be wrong with this strategy. Giving away taxpayers or investors hard earned money just to get some quick votes or turn some heads does not necessarily improve the quality of service or empower people. Reservation debate is going on for so long,(this is not one), but for the still economically lower class citizens have free subsidized rice really improved their quality of life?  Reservation for Ladies, Senior Citizens, Differently Abled person’s in trains and buses in India, have they really helped in improving their journey? Market revolutionary Jio have they really changed the telecom landscape? One could argue the thing they all set out to do was partially successful in the short term, But the one thing that for sure happened was the burden of who was paying for this things increased. The middle class suffers the most, the taxpayers, the subscribers, the investors because inherently when we pay we expect a specific quality of that service. But while also giving away things for free the people who pay feel cheated. They think they were robbed off, and the people who are getting things for free are opportunistic. While they main thing they all set out to do, which for sure can be done by one thing and one thing only “Infrastructure”  suffers. Infrastructure has to take a back seat to the game of gaining popularity.

A few days ago, few companies in Mumbai announced that they will give paid day off to women on their first day of Period. While the idea to make women comfortable in the workplace is good and breaking the social stigma should be appreciated, this giving away unearned leaves brings a problem. This sends a message that periods make women weak, this is a disease, while also alienating men more. The ideal solution should have been to improve infrastructure so to make cleaner restrooms, sanitary napkin vendors, private rooms for women to take rest and be comfortable when they feel unwell. But the companies chose a path that is not a long term solution to that. Similarly, Jio free giveaways do not improve the quality of telecom services in India. They disrupted the market, but now they are unable to hold the market. So they have to keep giving away free giveaways to hold on to their subscriber base. The KanyaShree scheme, flagship education schemes for girls in West Bengal is recognized as the top charitable giveaway in the world in UNESCO. But was the money given always utilized in a proper way, has the experience for girls in schools been in any better than it was, but one thing it did for sure it hampered the ability of the government to pay remaining DAs to its tax paying government workers.

When you keep giving away stuff for too long you lose sight of the focus. The opportunity to elevate becomes a privilege, then what was supposedly given u for a protective or empowering purposes, becomes a potential weapon for abuse. It always happens, slowly but surely. The best way to handle this I would argue is the UBER way, when it introduced itself to the market. When UBER introduced it, to Indian market free rides were a thing that everyone used. Then slowly they changed it to subsidized rate to the people who share the app who brings in new customers. The free rides stopped altogether and the rate increased again. But by then the quality of service improved so much UBER became a part of daily life despite the price being higher.

People of India are not so incompetent that they need to be handed things for free. Those who can pay should pay. But for now, better Infrastructure and a chance to earn will suffice so that everybody can pay the same amount for the same quality of service with out themselves in the process.

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