Pity Suresh Taware, an up-coming MP from Bhiwandi constituency. He was settling into his business-class seat on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai on Monday when Sonia Gandhi, his party chief, boarded the plane. Suresh Taware leapt up to greet the Congress party leader — and then watched in shock as she pointedly took her seat in economy class. He must have known that Sonia Gandhi had ordered her ministers to fly economy class as part of an austerity drive designed to show sympathy with drought-hit Indian farmers. But he had no idea that she was going to be on the same flight. He hurriedly swapped seats, but the damage was done. Suresh Taware is not the only Indian politician to have squirmed under the Government’s attempt to revive the spirit of frugality embodied by Mahatma Gandhi.
Sonia Gandhi started the austerity drive last week in an attempt to show empathy with farmers suffering in the country’s worst drought since 2002. Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State External Affairs described his experience of ‘economy class’ travel as “yes, I traveled with the cattle class in solidarity with our holy cows”.
Even Rahul Gandhi joined in by ditching his helicopter for traveling ‘first time’ by an economy-class train (Shatapdi AC chair car) from Delhi to Ludhiana. It is another thing that SPG (Special Protection Group) was traveling along that increased the cost of Rahul’s travel to Ludhiana significantly. Sonia Gandhi reportedly saved only 7,000 rupees on her trip to Mumbai as she had to take twice the number of bodyguards she has normally on the aircraft. Indira Gandhi during the peak of her political career used to brandish her HMT watch manufactured by a PSU company to explain her socialist bend. It is fine and common for MPs to travel by fuel-guzzling Ambassador Cars instead of more fuel efficient cars. As Ambassador Car (generally ‘white’ in tandem with white clothes worn by the political class portraying ‘clean’ image) is grossly mistaken to be a cheaper vehicle by uneducated mass so it has become a symbol of ‘I am with you” statement to the vote banks.
In today’s global times ( Think Big Grow Big) , I feel ‘austerity’ should be visible in Public sector corporate business plans, adhering to efficiency that leads to cost-effectiveness, refraining from ‘populist’ vote bank favoring policies, evading wasteful expenditure on religious celebrations, discontinuing ostentatious ‘Iftar’ parties that become political platforms showing cabinet support. Austerity should be in thinking process as displayed by Mahatma Gandhi. He has practiced this not only in India but wherever he went.
Fortunately, now that the educated class has started entering Indian political scenes… let us understand that we need not be penny wise and pound foolish. Are you listening Sonia?