Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has announced free distribution of smartphones from the latter half of next year, a move that replicates Samajwadi Party's experiment of promising free laptops to students ahead of 2012 Assembly polls.
Government employees and their wards, however, will not be eligible for this scheme. "The government has decided to start Samajwadi Smartphone Scheme to help a two-way communication between the government and people and also take direct feedback on various government schemes," an official release quoting the chief minister said.
"The distribution of smartphone will start in the second half of 2017 on the basis of first come/registration, first serve basis," it said.
In 2012 elections, the Samajwadi Party had secured a complete majority and one of its main poll promises was distributing free laptops to students.
"The phone will have a detailed app through which all information about the state government using audio-visual and text will be provided to people," the release said, adding beneficiaries will be selected in a transparent manner.
"Selecting the beneficiaries online, the smartphone will directly reach them to avoid any corruption. The registration for the same will start in a month's time. Those having passed high school and completed 18 years of age on 1 January, 2017, provided their family income is less than Rs 2 lakh rupees a year, will be able to apply," it said.
Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are slated to be held early next year. Akhilesh recalled that his government had successfully distributed about 18 lakh free laptops in a transparent manner and similarly, the smartphones to be distributed under the scheme will be of good quality and the process will be corruption-free.
Yadav's promises are far from novel in the Indian political scene. Promises come and go with every election. But a giveaway of this scale planted as a follow-up of his 2012 campaign reminds one of similar politics which has played out consistently in Tamil Nadu over the years.
Just this year, the DMK manifesto had promised waiver of education loans, tablets and laptops with 3G/4G connections and 10 GB per month download option for 16 lakh students, according to The Hindu. It also promised similar smartphones for poor families.
This was not the first time, though, that the DMK was making promises of such freebies. According to The Indian Express, DMK had in 2006 made promises to provide free colour television sets to the people.
AIADMK had also offered a huge subsidy for scooters and mobile phones, which was only part of their grand scheme of putting J Jayalalithaa's face on every dime spent by the party.
But the merits of such efforts remains speculative. DMK lost as Jayalalithaa swept the state.
But Yadav seems quite keen to push the party efforts to distribute smartphones as a way to built on good governance.
"Through the distribution of laptops, the SP government helped bring digital democracy in the real sense," he said adding, the 21st century is the century of possibilities and his government is committed to encourage information technology to help all sections of society get equal opportunities.
"The mobile phone will also have an app for providing information beneficial for farmers, villagers, unemployed, students and government schemes meant for small traders," the release said.
At a function recently, Akhilesh had hinted at bringing such a scheme by saying "Samajwadis will think of something which we can give to next generation or something through which they can get more information about the government and share their expectations. The cities are becoming smart and through mobile applications people are getting information."
"We have fulfilled our promise (made in 2012 Assembly manifesto) of providing free laptops to students. In the days to come, it is possible that for the poor, the government might decide to give some facilities. If we have to give mobile to the common man, we Samajwadis will also think in this regard and might include it in our manifesto," he had said.
It remains to be seen how far Akhilesh will push in his efforts to win the state, and if other parties of the state will join them.
With inputs from agencies.