Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Austerity measures border on the absurd
    Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, September 21, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

On Monday 14th I published an article in this column on how the bureaucracy and the polity are hampering growth in India because of their inability to change with the times. It is not as if this applies to all, though it does apply to a large number. I received both bouquets and brickbats. In this piece, I take a look at a burning issue which is engaging the polity in a most amusing manner, i.e. of austerity measures. The adoption of austerity measures by the government is being touted as an exhibition of solidarity with the drought affected people of India. Some have rightly defined it as absurdity, with which I agree wholeheartedly and would defend my views as follows.

Much brouhaha has been raised on travel by economy as against business class by politicians. Firstly the umbrage caused by Shashi Tharoor, the junior minister for foreign affairs, that he cannot would not like to travel in the cattle class. Indignantly, Ashok Gehlot asked him to both apologise and resign, while the Congress spokesperson, Jayanthi Natarajan disassociated the Congress Party from Shashi Tharoor’s twitter comment.

The Prime Minister observed that it was a joke and we should not hang Tharoor for that and he apologised. Another Congress spokesperson, Manish Tiwari went to a ludicrous extent of saying that he will be happy to travel in the cargo hold. A newspaper edit commented that assuming all the 79 ministers travelled daily by business class from Delhi to Mumbai at Rs. 8000 per ticket, it would be a humble 0.00002% of the total government expenditure. Thus, the need is to curb wasteful expenditure rather than behave like Don Quixote hitting at imaginary windmills.

Sonia Gandhi too flew by economy class while on a trip to Mumbai for a party meeting, while her son, Rahul took a train to Ludhiana also for a party meeting. Whether they travel by economy or business or even the humble train, the retinue of security personnel which accompany them is a necessary burden. Such a gesture may inspire other politicians to fly by economy, or take a train whenever they can. But the question is that will these gestures help?

When Mahatma Gandhi was asked as to why he travels by 3rd class, his response was that if there was a fourth class he would have travelled by that. An austere man, by travelling in the lowest class, he wanted to connect with the real India. One cannot expect our contemporary politicians to be as austere as our founding fathers.

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