Austerity of Panic
Seema Mustafa, The frontpage
It is strange what happens to the Congress party every time it hits an obstacle. The party managers, or should one say Sonia Gandhi managers, hit the panic button and go into a senseless overdrive. The intention is one: nothing, just nothing should tarnish the pristine image of the Congress president and now her son Rahul. Everything else is fine, but even an imagined slur has the managers out, trying to clean the dirt so that Sonia Gandhi at least does not have to step on it.
They do a fine job, one must give them credit for this. And in the face of a crawling media they get away with it. Take the latest controversy to hit the stands. The ‘discovery’ that two central ministers, both from the ministry of external affairs were living in luxury since UPA 2 came to power. S.M.Krishna and Shashi Tharoor’s five star addresses were finally noticed and reported by the newspapers, and within minutes the Congress had swung into Operation Damage Control. One, it was made known by well placed sources that Sonia Gandhi was very angry with this behaviour and did not condone it as it flew in the face of the austerity drive announced by the party in response to the drought in various parts of the country. No one of course said that austerity should be part and parcel of Congress and political behaviour, as the majority of people in India live in permanent drought, without food and water. Just as no one pointed out that the entire government and the party knew that the two were staying in hotels but then as the moral of the Krishna-Tharoor story is “all goes unless you are found out.’
Two, Sonia Gandhi was immediately dispatched to Mumbai in the economy class of a commercial flight. No more---at least until the debate dies down---private jets for her. The media was told about it, and the matter was highlighted to the satisfaction of her political managers. Of course they forgot to mention the money incurred on keeping seats empty, on her security staff, and on flying her bullet proof vehicles to Mumbai. That was beside the point. The Congress president had deigned to travel like an ordinary mortal, and that itself should be enough proof of her commitment to austerity was the message that we now in the media are too servile to challenge.
Three, her son Rahul Gandhi moved even a notch ‘lower’. No cattle class for him, as even that was too expensive. He decided to visit Ludhiana in a train and there could be no better proof that the Dynasty was committed to austerity. It was clear from the manner in which he was photographed watching his step while alighting from the bogey that this was that rare train ride for the scion, as trains are for the commoners and not for the privileged who rule India as their birthright. The miscreants who stoned the train, as they stone every other train for want of anything better to do, are now on the run as their village is crawling with security men looking for them. For stoning trains is acceptable vandalism in this country, but stoning a train carrying Rahul Gandhi, just a two term MP, cannot go without action.
This takes us to the second controversy, the tweeting of Tharoor who has developed a penchant for being in the news but for all the wrong reasons. He is trying hard, but years in the UN have infused in him a sense of humour that is not really understood at home. So when he speaks of the cattle class, no one is amused and certainly not those who have not traveled in it for decades, or ever for that matter. Holy cows, as we know, have always been sensitive to the description and bigger men than Tharoor have run foul for describing them as such. The fact that his tweet about travelling cattle class to please the holy cows came just after Sonia Gandhi had condescended to travel economy had the party managers running around in panickly little circles. This will not be tolerated, declared the party spokespersons. Tharoor will have to pay the price, they asserted. He must resign, they shouted. Tharoor called Sonia Gandhi to make amends, and the first indication that the crisis, at least for this moment had passed, came when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared at his iftar party that it was just a “joke.” Ha, ha! But no one is laughing and the Congress has tagged Tharoor, waiting for his next move.
Corruption is not really an issue in India. It has crept into the very vitals of our being. We live corrupt. We ask for bribes, we pay bribes for everything from a traffic violation to admissions in schools to train tickets to political election tickets to appointments, transfers, postings, just every thing. We even fleece the poor. In fact, it is really the poor we fleece to make our riches. We just do not want to admit that we are rolling in money and for every penny that we show, we have millions more lying ‘somewhere’. We have learnt the art of milking the system, and if we are in government in any capacity we make sure that not just our pennies but our pounds are in good supply. Our every need is taken care of, and we live a hallowed life. Values have become subservient to money and we are acquisitive, greedy and corrupt by nature.
Every contract fetches big commissions. Every foreign manufacturer looking to exploit the huge Indian market, knows that it can be his for a good price, not for the product, but for greasing pockets. To the point where rubbish is bought if the commissions make it worth the while, and India probably stands alone as a country in a buyer-driven market that is unable to negotiate good rates for products.
This sounds sad, but it is the sad truth. And a stupid austerity drive, the brainchild of moronic politicians cannot substitute for honesty and for accountability. India is not a rich country, and at least those elected to represent it should take note of this by living lives that are ascetic in real terms.