The High Life- Interrupted!

A debate has been raging in the Indian media for the last few days over the Congress party’s diktat to two ministers of the Union government to shift from the five star hotels they were residing in, on their own expense, to show solidarity with the ‘aam aadmi’ who is reeling under the twin burdens of global recession and deficit monsoon. A high moral ground is being taken by the ruling party when it says that public representatives must be seen to be empathizing with the common man, in his hour of financial crisis, by eschewing trappings of luxury and conspicuous consumption not only in public expenditure but in their personal lives also. The missive has not gone down well and already murmur of protests are being heard.

It is no secret that all sections of the ruling elite-netas, bureaucrats, army men, journalists, judges- live well. And they live well on public money. Apart from their wages, which are handsome in comparison with the national average, there are a host of other freebies too.  The best of accommodation, transport, telephones, an army of servants, domestic and foreign travel, an ability to grant sundry favours. The list is practically endless. And it is highly unlikely that they will they give them up without a fight- drought or recession notwithstanding. After all we have had all sorts of natural and man made calamities earlier also but that did not stop the governmental juggernaut of fiscal profligacy from  gathering steam and be where it is now.

But this time it is different. While at all earlier occasions, austerity measures were confined to governmental expenditure, it is for the first time that public representatives are being exhorted by their ruling party to practice an austere life even if they are able to afford a grander life from their own resources. And the difference is significant at least in some respects. Though it has always been well known that our public representatives are not exactly poor, their wealth-a part of it at least-is now publicly declared in affidavits filed at election times. The people too believe that netas may not be in the wrong if they put their hands in their own tills to live well. And hence, most reacted to the instructions of the congress party by telling it not to be hypocritical and sanctimonious at the same time. They think if their netas have wealth which has been declared openly what is the harm in their spending it as the liked?

The congress is hard put to defend its position. On one hand, it knows that its diktat is at best an exercise in public relations and on the other hand it knows it is downright naive to expect that the people would not see through the gimmick. It would have been another matter altogether if the party had decided to donate the amount saved by its netas as a result of its austerity drive to the Prime Ministers’ Relief Fund. The proof of the pudding would then have been in its eating.

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