Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently said that 'freebies' being given in the states were a part of 'Revadi culture'. "If you give things for free, then how can you build airports or roads?" the PM asked his audience at the inauguration of the Bundelkhand Expressway. Though his remarks did not point to any single state, Noida-based news media channels were quick to pick it up and ran numerous 'debates' in support of his statement. Many of them were directed towards the states which had a government formed by the Opposition regional parties.

Telangana Chief Minister, K Chandrasekhar Rao was quick to respond and criticised the Centre for insulting the State's autonomy and disrupting the nation's cooperative federal spirit by making such irresponsible statements. But one incident which caught everyone's attention was that of the Finance Minister of Tamil Nadu, Palanivel Thiagarajan. During his televised remark in response to a news anchor of an English news channel, PTR as he's also fondly known, made his intent obvious.

He did not mince words when it came to calling out the news anchor who sided with the choice of words used by PM Modi. Thiagarajan was applauded on social media for his erudite remarks and how put forth his arguments brilliantly. He put it on record that 'freebies are not a part of revadi culture' but are part of a larger welfare scheme aimed at balancing social equality in the state.

Let us take a look at the so called 'freebies' given by governments across the country, and in particular Tamil Nadu. The state runs its government on the Dravidian model as governed by the principles of both the major Dravidian parties of the state who have governed it successively.

The first welfare scheme to have been established after the country's independence was the renowned Midday noon meal program introduced by the erstwhile CM K Kamaraj. The scheme which was started in the year 1956 changed the dynamics of the country, as well as globally. It was later extended and formulated across the states and also catered to students in urban schools. The scheme is well over its 60th year of existence and has been instrumental in reducing the dropout rates among the young adolescents.

Let us look at some of the other schemes introduced by the Dravidian governments in the state:

1. Widow Remarriage Act: A one-time financial assistance of Rs 2.5 lakh is given to remove the social stigma among the destitute widows.

2. Free electricity connection for the purpose of agricultural and allied activities.

3. Free house site for construction of homes for the Scheduled Castes- removal of the stigmatisation and social ostracisation of the community.

4. A one-time marriage monetary assistance of Rs.5000 is given to a single girl child who has completed her formal education up to eighth standard. This was introduced by the late CM J.Jayalaithaa who said this would lead to women empowerment.

5. Inter-Caste marriage assistance: Tamil Nadu was one of the first states in India to give a financial assistance of Rs.5000 to promote inter caste marriages and eradicate caste segregation.

6. Samathuvapuram Scheme: This was one of the major landmarks of the erstwhile DMK government headed by late CM M.Karunanidhi. Free housing sites were to be provided to members from the lower economic households irrespective of caste. Aimed at eradicating caste segregation based on houses usually seen in rural villages, it was hailed by economic and anti-caste activists as a revolutionary scheme.

7. Free colour TVs: Owning a television set was considered to have an economic importance in a neighbourhood. This scheme aimed to destroy this myth and it went on to create economic equality for all.

Now, let us look at the other states particularly the southern states, where the 'freebies' as a part of welfare schemes, have been instrumental in the advancement of Human Development. Telangana often goes unnoticed when it comes to welfare, especially in the agriculture sector. Under their 'Rythu Bandhu' scheme every farmer in the state is given a grant of Rs.5000 per acre, per season, for the purchase of farm inputs like seeds, fertilisers and so on.

The grant is given twice a year i.e., for both Rabi and Kharif seasons. It is probably for the first time that a state government is directly involved in farmer investment support. Here the money is directly paid to the farmer. Another welfare scheme such as the KCR Kit Scheme aims to address maternal and neonatal mortalities in the state. It provides all the necessary items for the pregnant women and the newborn baby who are under medical care in the government hospitals in the state. A financial assistance of Rs 12, 000 is also given in instalments of three, and an additional Rs 1,000 is given if the newborn is a girl child.

In the case of Andhra Pradesh, the YSR Government stormed back to power in 2019 mainly due to their 'Navaratnalu' or the nine-gems schemes as promised in their election manifesto. True to their word, the nine schemes have been rolled out since then. One of the major highlights of the scheme is the 'Housing for all the poor'.

This scheme aims in creating housing for all, in which the housing sites shall be provided to people with no houses or no pucca houses, along with the costs of registration and construction which shall be borne by the state. Another interesting aspect of this scheme is that the registration of the house shall be done in the name of the female head of the household; another progressive step towards women empowerment.

Kerala was way ahead of its time when it rolled out the 'Kudumbashree' scheme when the Panchayati Raj institutions were being given a legal sanctity throughout the country. The Kudumbashree scheme evolved as one of the most logical steps in the democratic decentralisation in Kerala. It is an important welfare scheme which aims to address the problem of poverty through women empowerment.

It has a three-tiered process which works in the domains of social empowerment through destitute identification and rehabilitation; women empowerment through educational programmes which addressed issues like violence against women; and economic empowerment through measures such as collective farming and market development.

This three-tiered network helps the local self-government institutions in framing local bodies' anti-poverty plan and other local development schemes. In other words, it is the most successfully implemented welfare scheme in which a community organisation of Neighbourhood Groups (NHG's) of women in Kerala, has been recognised as an effective strategy in the empowerment of women and bringing women together from various spheres of life to fight for their right of empowerment.

All these measures have only been instrumental in uplifting the economy of these states. They have also attempted to create a just and an equal society in many of the Southern states of India. The southern states have consistently performed well on many Human Development Index (HDI) indicators. They rank among the top in the nation when it comes to healthcare and education and all this was achievable thanks to the so-called 'revadi culture' as claimed by our Prime Minister.

It is indeed a matter of concern that our PM is often not advised well by his economic advisors on the concept of welfare schemes. Such statements can only be seen as an insult to the progressive measures carried out by many of the state governments.

Our country has been defined as a welfare state; which means that governments have the responsibility to protect and promote economic and social well-being of its citizens as mentioned and enshrined in our Constitution: equal opportunity and equitable distribution of wealth. Welfare state is in itself a way of governing a state or a nation to provide economic and social assistance to the less privileged sections of our society.

Using terms such as 'revadi' is seen as an attempt to insult the concept of welfare which helps lakhs of people in uplifting them in terms of economic and social justice. The PM needs to be well informed on such matters, and such callous terms will not hold well where a majority of its citizens still live below the poverty line.