Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday said that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has given a “perverse twist” to the debate on freebies by questioning whether providing education and healthcare constituted such handouts, PTI reported.

“Health and education have never been called freebies,” the finance minister told reporters in Delhi hours after Kejriwal questioned the state of the Centre’s finances because it has been opposing freebies.

“No Indian government has ever denied them since Independence,” Sitharaman said. “So, by classifying education and health as freebies, Kejriwal is trying to bring in a sense of worry and fear in [the] minds of [the] poor.”

Sitharaman called for a genuine debate on the distribution of freebies.

Earlier in the day, Kejriwal accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre of taxing the poor to “write off the loans of their friends”.

After raising doubts about the financial health of the Centre, the Aam Aadmi Party chief claimed that it was for the first time since Independence that daily commodities were being taxed by the government even after which it was not in a position to give “pension to the soldiers”. He was referring to the Agnipath scheme for military recruitment announced by the government on June 14.

The Delhi chief minister also spoke about the Centre slashing allocations for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme by 25% this year and not having money to pay 100 days’ wages to workers under the scheme.

“Where has the central government’s money gone?” he asked. “The central government shares a part of taxes it collects with the states. Earlier, it was 42%. Now it has been cut to 29-30%. The Centre is collecting twice-thrice the amount of taxes it collected in 2014.”

The debate about freebies started after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 16 had described promising freebies to voters as “revdi culture”. Revdi is a sweet made of jaggery and sesame.

At an event in Panipat later on August 10, Modi added that such announcements increase the burden on taxpayers and stop the country from becoming self-reliant.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay has filed a plea in the Supreme Court, seeking directions to file criminal cases against political parties for luring voters with freebies. At a hearing on Thursday, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana orally remarked that there is a difference between freebies and social welfare schemes.

On Thursday, BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla said that the “revdi culture” being promoted by the Aam Aadmi Party was more focused on advertising but weak on governance.

“There is [a] difference between welfare policy and revdi politics,” he said at a press conference. “Welfare policies empower a targeted section who have been deprived of necessities. These add to the productivity of the population. Whereas, revdi culture is a lollipop dished out for political gains and makes no transformation to people’s lives.”

The Aam Aadmi Party, which is in power in Delhi and Punjab, is going to contest the upcoming Assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The party has built its support base through welfare schemes funded by government subsidies.

BJP follows ‘dostvaad model’ of favouring friends, says Manish Sisodia

Meanwhile, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Friday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of adhering the policy of “dostvaad” – favouring friends.

“There are two governance models in the country,” Sisodia said at a press conference. “Under the dostvaad model, millions of crores [of dues] of friends are forgiven. And the Kejriwal model, in which public money is spent in public welfare.”

Sisodia said that most developed countries in the world have strong economies as they invest in the welfare of their citizens.

“In India, when states invest in citizens, they are asked to stop giving ‘free revdis’,” he added.