India’s New Maharajas
AUSTERITY, WHAT’S THAT?
By Poonam I Kaushish
New Delhi, June 12 : Political Delhi is in the throes of VIP aka Very Important Person syndrome once again. The kind that suffer from two diseases: Acute Orwellian disorder of “some are more equal than others” and Oliver’s disease, “always asking for more”. Any wonder ki aam aadmi ko gussa kyon aata hai?
Flying broke Air India? High quality handling, read Maharaja treatment is the latest ego trip of our 800-odd MPs devised by Parliament’s House Committee. Starting from airport departure to arrival at destination: Airport manager to “meet” MP, accommodate in lounge, escort to plane and cabin crew to offer “compliments of the Captain”. Manager to “monitor”, “liaise” and “ensure” flight operates on schedule, inform counterpart of MP’s seat number, baggage location and “special requirement at destination”. On arrival, manager to receive MP at arrival gate, escort to immigration, baggage claim, customs et al. Notwithstanding, they don’t deserve this extra importance. All at our expense
More shocking, the Planning Commission which grandiosely announced Rs 32 per day was enough to keep body and soul together for a family of five, has spent over Rs 38 lakhs to renovate four toilets for 60-odd VIP’s in Yojna Bhawan! Accessible only with smart cards. No matter, millions use fields for their daily chores. Montek Ahluwalia’s ‘flush’ of a new idea, what?
Yet, scandalously, trust our hypocritical netagan to read out a riot act on austerity. Under pressure to rein in India’s widening fiscal deficit, the Government announced a string of measures to control unproductive expenditure: Restriction on official foreign travel, ban on conferences in five-star hotels, creation of new posts, vehicles purchase and 10% cut in non-Plan expenditure across all ministries. Saving Rs 4,500 crore.
Questionably, have our high-flying gossamer-thin-skinned MPs junked the protocol and embraced Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of ‘simple living and high thinking’ interspersed with Nehruvian socialism with a new zeal? Or Gandhi scion Rahul’s who believes, “As a politician, one has a duty to be austere.”
Hog wash and jarring in today’s age of in-your-face-status flaunting neo-Maharajas replete with the power trappings that go with it. The Government’s belt-tightening is just a charade as the cuts take care only of discretionary spending and will not have any impact on the overall spending.
Forget austerity, why should the Government in the first place hold meetings in five star hotels? There are enough conference halls dotting Delhi’s Lutyens landscape: Vighyan Bhawan, Parliament House etc. Neither would restriction on foreign travels save much money till Ministerial delegations are sizably cut down.
Besides, a ban on creation of new posts is meaningless as excess staff is rampant in every Ministry. Whereby, from peon upwards most are adept fly-squatters or been reduced to file pushers resulting in them gathering dust on some desk.
Indeed, if sobriety begins at home, should our netagan be living in tony Lutyens’ Delhi replete with seven-star bungalows? With manicured lawns, growing wheat and vegetables, free furniture, air-conditioners, fridges and maintenance to boot, down to a tube-light, all living like Burra Sahib!
All paid by the aam aadmi who continue to grovel outside like a beggar soliciting a favour from their undata. Shouldn’t they be moving to taxpayer-friendly modern apartment blocks? Or rent a fancy farmhouse instead of tearing down a heritage property? And let the Government save some money.
Not only that. Once in power, status and style matter. Our netas demand AK 47 wielding security men and yell blue murder if it is withdrawn. Look at the absurdity. Even VIPs who face no threat to their life are given minimal security of four PSOs round the clock. Bringing things to such a ridiculous pass that one sees fat waddly wannabes walking in Delhi’s Lodi garden chest puffed-up to show-off their VIP status and cars.
Expressing “displeasure” of being “much below their status and lower to persons not holding Constitutional offices and even bureaucrats”, our MPs demanded permission to flash red beacons, the symbol of exalted separateness, on their vehicles and their official status climb up four rungs in the Warrant of Precedence (protocol list of VVIPs hierarchy) so that their position doesn’t come below State Ministers and is on par with the High Courts Chief Justices. Notwithstanding, in UK, MPs do not figure in the Warrant of Precedence.
Furthermore, they want invites for all Government functions in their area, their names printed on invitation cards, punishment for anyone who forgets to put the name, want everyone to stand every time they enter and leave a room and don’t want to wait to see anyone. Topped by an established code to state where they will be seated at public events.
Scandalously, why and for what do our netagan need fancy pay-packets, perks galore and free travel? As also pensions once they demit public office? Considering that there is no jan seva involved that needs monetary compensation? Think each MP cost the tax payer Rs 2.12 lakhs per month and an ex-MP Rs 50,000 at least.
The tragedy is that even as the country saunters into the 21st century for our ruling maharajas the vestige of 19th century India still lingers on. Of which ‘follow-no-rules’ is a fundamental part instead rule by law. No IDs’, no frisking and long queues, cars jumping red lights et al to exhibit their ‘power’ might. God forbid, if anyone questions their misdemeanor be prepared for open fury.
Time now to remind our netas who claim to don the democratic mantle and swear by it, what democracy is all about. Whereby, holding free and fair periodic elections alone does not conotate true democracy. India requires a commitment to transparency and a sense of fair play. Not symbolic gestures simplicity which total a zero-sum game.
Clearly, if India is to be seen as a potential great power, we have to go beyond the symbolism of tyaag. Given the dichotomy between Power India and Asli Bharat. One which raves and rants about life sans frills, the other lives who go through the daily aggravation of being bin bijli aur paani, sky rocketing prices, unemployment, increasing poverty and the ever-demanding ghooskhori. Which pales against the in-your-face behavior of our political mai-baaps.
Importantly, our Right Honourables need to recognize that they must be deserving before they can desire. The writing is on the wall. If our Right Honourables do not change they will become increasingly irrelevant. Gone are the days when netas were revered, today they symbolise everything that plagues India, warts and all.
Thus, it is high time we did away with unnecessary privileges for politicians, bureaucrats and others. One does not need a drought and the increasing fiscal deficit to alert the Government to the urgency of cutting extraneous expenditure.
The bottom line: Stop fawning, shed the colonial hangover, callousness and make no compromises with our Right Honourables. It is quite ridiculous that just because the VIPs consider themselves icons everybody else should too. It remains to be seen whether our polity will go beyond symbolism. Or continue to live life Maharaja-size and regale austerity to mere tokenism? —- INFA