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Hypocrisy of the 'austerity drive' must stop Right Now!

By M K Bhadrakumar
September 16, 2009 10:55 IST
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M K Bhadrakumar, a former diplomat, asks what the point of the Congress party's austerity drive is.

The newspaper chain which acted as the whistleblower on the ostentatious lifestyle of the political class has done a singular disservice.

It has unwittingly or otherwise racheted up the threshold of political cynicism in our country.

If it has the gumption, it must not rest on its laurels and must now carry its crusade on behalf of Gandhian values to its logical conclusion.

Which will, of course, be an extremely painful thing to do, as it might raise a hornet's nest in South Block and North Block.

For instance, if the newspaper were now to go one step further and put on its agenda the entire lifestyle of our political class.

Devote one column every day on the front page on the subject.

Expose them, expose them all, without fear or favour.

As diligently as it does exposing every single morning, for instance, the wicked machinations of the Middle Kingdom, which is our country's northern neighbour, or the flawed Indian Left and the inexorable death of Communism in Kerala and West Bengal.

Put a special correspondent on the beat. Let him take a bicycle ride along the leafy avenues of central Delhi and he won't need binoculars to see how the political class lives it up in their cottages with verandahs tucked deep inside their vast estates.

Start a new series of stories of 'exclusives' on how much it costs India to maintain the political class.

But then, there will be a price to pay. The charade will spin out of control. It will become bloody serious in no time, as skeletons begin tumbling out of cupboards.

Yes, the hypocrisy of the current 'austerity drive' must stop. Right Now.

There is no way today's Congress leaders can claim to be the inheritors of Mahatma Gandhi's legacy.

The country just put behind it a general election where the crucial determinant was money power.

It is bazaar talk that crores of rupees changed hands in Tamil Nadu so that 'spoilers' optimally 'spoiled' the election prospects of the Opposition.

The rumours are that one national party spent as much as Rs 800 crores (Rs 8 billion) in the last general election. Where does such money come from? How is such mammoth expenditure justified? Who would recoup such massive outflow of money from a political party's war chest?

Gandhiji never thought of the need of a war chest in the first instance for waging the freedom struggle. He saw the common people as his political capital.

So, what are we talking about? There ought to be a limit to political cynicism.

The newspaper which began the campaign, and the Congress party which is squeezing the last ounce of political mileage out of it for days altogether now, are the sole beneficiaries of this absurd austerity drive so much so that it all looks terribly suspicious.

The two protagonists almost seem to have formed a mutual admiration society.

In the process, two Congress politicians have been needlessly made to look foolish. They were made the 'fall guys'.

What was so terribly wrong in S M Krishna and Shashi Tharoor living in five-star hotels?

They are famous crorepatis, and they don't hide it. Look at their wrist watches or their natty costumes or the sheer elan in their walk. You can make out from a mile they are crorepatis.

If they are living it up, they have a damn right to do so, as they have a zest for life and they dip into their immense personal wealth to do so without being miserly with their wealth.

They are not asking for a free ride at anyone else's expense either.

What the Congress party should have done was to deny them the privilege of representing such a Gandhian party in Parliament, if indeed their crorepati lifestyle was so obnoxious.

In any case, all that can be done now is to be practical.

The two crorepati ministers in the Ministry of External Affairs -- three, in fact -- have an important national mission entrusted in their hands, which is to be the top diplomats of our country.

They need to travel far and wide and they need to travel often enough and very quickly. Time management is the essence of their life.

They have to sacrifice so much in national interest already -- suffering from constant jetlag and migraines, as they tirelessly criss-cross continents as the messiahs of our country's vital interests and core concerns.

At least, let them travel in some comfort in first class so that they can stretch their legs and catch some decent sleep. So that they arrive fresh at their destination and their mind is alert and they talk sensible things in the national interest.

But, taking matters further, the national media should also start a campaign of self-denial.

Why not, for instance, politely but firmly reject the gifts showered by the prime minister to the media party accompanying him on his tours abroad?

Or, at the very least, reject the Johnny Walker Black Label whiskey and the cosmetics in the hamper? Gandhiji will be immensely pleased.

They may keep the chocolates that the prime minister gifts. Gandhiji was almost child-like in his innocent passion for sweets.

When our media stand on the moral pedestal, it makes you feel extremely uneasy.

How many of our media barons will be prepared to travel economy class?

Will they move out of their farm houses and live modestly too?

Plainly put, this austerity drive is being carried too far and it has become a macabre Dickensian joke. Stop it and let us turn to serious business.

Not only are the political class and their handmaidens in our media making much ado about nothing, they are insulting our common intelligence.

We know well enough that if the farmers die -- as they are destined to -- and if tens of millions of peasants are going to be driven to their wits's end as the drought inexorably tightens its grip in the coming months, and when such unspeakable suffering and hunger stalk our land, our political class needs to demonstrate that they care.

The current charade is all about cutting political loss. It is surreal.

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M K Bhadrakumar in New Delhi