September 16, 2009 2:38:29 am
Surely even the Congress party is now slowly waking up to the fact that it has made a mistake of five-star proportions. The absurd moralising around austerity has created a monster: each and every Congressman is now in a bind,having to prove his or her moral worth as well as loyalty by progressively greater feats of simplicity and solidarity with the aam aadmi,preferably when there are TV cameras about. It is not just that this comes close to setting up the UPAs senior leaders as objects of ridicule,as the aftermath of S.M. Krishnas and Shashi Tharoors exit from their hotels demonstrated; and it goes beyond the hypocrisy and tokenism implicit in taking miniscule cuts in salary and travel arrangements when the much larger cheques for living in Lutyens Delhi and the incomparably larger cheques for irresponsible,subsidy-driven politics continue to be picked up by a cash-strapped government.
No,the concern is that now a nominally reformist party and government are trapped into a spiral of moral correctness that is rapidly taking on anti-aspiration,anti-rich overtones. If the partys leaders wish to live simply,that is their prerogative. But to imply that austere simplicity is something that the ruling coalition prizes in governance and in the India they wish to build has far too many overtones of the bad old two-faced socialist India for comfort. As Tharoor wryly said on the internet website twitter.com,in response to a question as to whether,next time he travelled to Kerala,he would do it cattle class (that is,economy class): Absolutely. In cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows! But these particular holy cows we had hoped were gone forever. The Congresss leadership has made a massive blunder in raising them from the dead.
And the spectacle of senior party leaders travelling in simplicity raises other issues. Congress President Sonia Gandhi flew to Mumbai in economy class,and AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi travelled to Ludhiana on the Shatabdi Express,in chair car. Both these were accompanied by a media frenzy,by inconvenience to other passengers and most importantly an increased security risk. It isnt just the truth of Sarojini Naidus old complaint that it cost a lot to keep Gandhiji in poverty that is being brought home by such tokenism. It is also that it is both dangerous and irresponsible of the Congresss leadership to expose itself to an increased threat level. It is unfair to the securitymen that protect them. And it is also a backward-looking political blunder. So why are they persisting?
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