Friday, September 18, 2009

Austerity - A One Act Farce for Every Season


Pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister sounded the bugle earlier in the month to announce the new and improved version of the Farce called Austerity for the new season.






Sound of the Bugle

The prelude was the reported displeasure of his party President Sonia Gandhi that S.M.Krishna, the Minister for External Affairs and Shashi Tharoor, the Minister of State in the same Ministry had been staying in five star hotels running up bills worth crores of rupees, to be met from the tax payers’ funds. The Finance Minister “requested” both the Ministers to immediately move to more appropriate accommodations. The ministers grudgingly agreed, while vaguely hinting that they had made their own private arrangements for stay as the official accommodations were not ready.

This incident was the cue for Pranab Mukerjee to announce further austerity measures also involving restrictions on flying in Business Class (domestic) and First Class (foreign).

Deja Vu?

The 2008 Season
Story idea by Manmohan Singh, Script by Chidambaram

The 2009 Season

Story idea credited to Sonia Gandhi, Script credited to Pranab Mukherjee

The Congress Party has obviously been honing the art of diverting the attention of the gullible public whenever any burning issue, especially one that burns large holes in the people’s pockets, comes up. Just over a year ago in early June 2008, the lead was taken by the Prime Minister when he asked the Ministers “to severely curtail expenditure on air travel, particularly foreign travel, except in cases where it is deemed to be absolutely necessary.” This prompting was promptly followed up by the then Finance Minister Chidambaram whose Ministry issued guildelines for expenditure management.(see here) Incidentally, such guidelines were issued just nine months before, in September 2007 as well. What was the ostensible reason and backdrop for the 2008 season Austerity? It was the “continuing rise in global crude oil and commodity prices”. The Prime Minister wrote his letter just a day after the Government had announced a back breaking increase in the price of Petrol and Diesel by Rs. 5 and Rs. 3 per liter respectively and the price for cooking gas by Rs. 50 a cylinder. The immediate victims of the Prime Ministerial missive then were four ministers Chidambaram, Deora, Mani Shanker Aiyer and Ambika Soni who were forced to cancel their scheduled foreign jaunts.

The reason for the new season’s version of the Farce of Austerity is the drought that the country is facing! The relevant instructions from the Finance Ministry say the measures are necessary: “...in view of the current fiscal situation and that arising out of insufficient rain in large parts of the country, and the consequent pressure on Government’s resources”. Last year, the story idea was provided by the Prime Minister. This year, the same story idea is shown to be that of Sonia Gandhi. The script was written last year by Chidambaram whose name for the same script with minor changes is replaced by that of Pranab Mukherjee.

The Real Objective

It is very clear to those who are well versed in the ways of the Congress party that the benefits of any such austerity drive are only incidental and the real motivation is provided by other factors. Last year, it was to divert the attention of the people from the uncontrolled inflation and the unpleasant increase in fuel prices announced by Government. This year, it is not due to the drought, but to take the focus away from the the intolerable increases in the prices of all essential food products including dal and sugar brought about largely by the successful mismanagement of the Agriculture Ministry by Sharad Pawar, even before the effects of the drought on the coming crop. Whatever be the reason for the austerity drive, it has for the time being diverted the focus of the public attention to relatively harmless discussions about austerity, comments of some ministers, etc. which the Government does not mind as long as the more serious issues (of which there is no dearth) are moved backstage.

How the Farce unfolds....

The Farce as it is being played is fully adaptable and capable of improvisations by the characters as the situation demands. Here is how fools, knaves and others showed their improvising talents.



Cast of characters 2009

It was Shashi Tharoor, one of the two men who were the immediate targets of the Austerity who candidly and rightly interpreted the incident as “silly-season” - a time usually marked by news stories over frivolous matters - controversy. But Shashi Tharoor, a greenhorn in Congress culture has apparently not yet imbibed the kowtow culture where no one says that the emperor has no clothes. Nor has he matured as yet from the twitter-twatter culture that thrives on fluff and frivolity. So he followed up his earlier comment with a rather tasteless remark calling the economy class in air travel as “cattle class”, although to be fair, it is a term which even those who travel by that class do not mind using. The often abrasive and impertinent spokesperson of Congress party Tiwari, said that his party members were even ready to travel in the plane’s cargo hold. Hear, hear! Vilasrao Deshmukh suddenly became conscious that they were a government for the aam admi so why should they mind travelling together with the common man.

However, at the Cabinet level, many ministers from the senior to the junior objected. Kamal Nath and the first time Minister Anand Sharma wanted to travel First Class while travelling abroad. Farooq Abdullah objected to economy class. Sharad Pawar objected to travelling economy class. After all, what use is the personal wealth and official power with a body to match, if one cannot at least travel in any class that one pleases with the tax payers’ money? He also indulged in absolute pettiness seeking clarification whether foreign dignitaries could be treated in five star hotels. Maran raised a more serious objection to some ministers like Home, Finance, Defence and External Affairs travelling by special aircraft as per their entitlement. Pawar’s second in command Praful Patel made the general approach of politicians on austerity very clear: : “... austerity is now beginning to be required by politicians back home...at least we have to appear to be austere, if nothing else". (see here)
So, this is the aproach: to appear to be austere.
The underlying tone of whatever the Ministers and others said was that such measures were meaningless and impinged on their privilege to spend public funds. Pranab Mukherjee, the scriptwriter quickly changed the script to reveal the real plot. While appearing to reject the Ministers’ demands for travelling in higher classes, he also said that “these were unusual times and austerity measures were for one year only.” There, the cat is out of the bag. The measures are only for the year which could be interpreted as only for this financial year, i.e. for another seven months. (see here)

Trivialities and tomfoolery

At the same time, to show that they were taking the advice seriously albeit reluctantly, the ministers have started falling over each other to let the media know that they had already started travelling economy class as if that is the sole barometer of austerity.

To cap it all, the President of the Congress party Sonia Gandhi travelled to Mumbai by economy class. Her son too, in a well-publicised manner, chose to travel to somewhere by train in the chair car. Both of them managed one more opportunity for cheap publicity from the news-starved media which revels in such trifles. But for the faithful, it was one more in a string of "sacrifices" made by the family for the country. And as far as Rahul, the son, is concerned, by fortuitous coincidence, a few boys pelted stones on his train as it passed by on the way. After that incident, how could the security agencies not take notice? Security is paramount and so, these two worthies might be forced to give up making such sacrifices in travel matters in the future, much against their wishes. How very convenient! A couple of points, however, need to be noted. It must be presumed that the travel bills of Sonia Gandhi and her son would have been borne by the Congress party and not by the taxpayers. At the same time, the higher bills for their enhanced security while travelling by such insecure modes would have to be borne by the exchequer. What do such gimmicks achieve then?

The substance of it...

Talking about the austerity measures on travels, it needs to be asked as to what is the actual amount of savings expected to be achieved which would be meaningful to relieve pressure on finances due to drought, which is supposedly the reason for the Austerity. In the first place, the instructions issued last year in June 2008 were expected to be followed with proper monitoring. If the Government claims to be at all serious, it ought to have first told the people in a transparent manner the achievements from the previous austerity instructions. According to Budget estimates for 2009-2010, the travel expenses under the Head Establishment are Rs. 2,506.67 crores, a jump from Rs. 1860.26 crores in the previous year. Of this, the travel expenses of the Ministry of Home Affairs have jumped from Rs. 25.99 crores to Rs. 82.62 crores. The travel expenses estimates of The Cabinet are Rs. 179.22 crores which for some strange reason were only Rs. 17.82 crores in the previous year. (see here) It must also not be forgotten that the Government had ordered in 2005 not one but three aircraft for the travel by the President and the Prime Minister, at a cost of Rs. 937 crores. The first aircraft was delivered in August 2008 followed by the other two and the maiden flight was inaugurated by the President on 1st April 2009. One aircraft is understandable, even two, because we want to project ourselvs as a superpower with such show. But three?

Taking a larger canvas, travelling expenses are just a drop in the ocean when seen in the context of the overall expenditure budget of the Government of India. No one is saying as to what is being actually done or achieved with regard to plugging the massive leakages in developmental expenditures, normal revenue expenditures, plan expenditures and expenditure on populist schemes meant for the poor but utilized to create more wealth for those who have the authority to use the funds. It is hard to see any worthwhile action because obviously the vested interests of the politicians will be hurt.

Hypocrisy starting from high places
All this fakery is resulting in an ostentatious display of mock austerity that at best can achieve only paltry savings at the end of the day, when compared to the overall spending by the Government. The Congress party is quite adept at such sham, stunts and subterfuge at all levels as seen in Andhra Pradesh recently where it transpired that the stories of over a hundred people committing suicide on hearing of the death of their beloved leader were fake and people had been actually paid to attribute deaths from other causes to death from shock!

And this hypocrisy is starting from the top and trickles down at all levels and becomes pervasive. Just one example would suffice to show how absolutely phony is the concern of the Congress Party President, Sonia Gandhi for austerity. The Government has been releasing advertisements without any real reason in national newspapers at the slightest pretext ostensibly highlighting this achievement or that plan. All these advertisements prominently carry a photograph of the Congress President Sonia Gandhi who is no one in Government. Several billion rupees have already been spent and are continuing to be spent from the tax payers’ money primarily to show her photographs with a regularity which people are increasingly finding quite repugnant. It is simply not conceivable that Sonia Gandhi does not see her own face in such advertisements which serve no other purpose than to constantly keep her in the public eye. She is also certainly aware that her picture should not be there in official government advertisements at all. She is also not ignorant that the advertisements cost money and that the entire expenditure on such advertisements is wasteful and useless. Yet, she is fully relishing and revelling in the free publicity that she gets at State expense rather than spending the money from her own pocket or that of her party. What is this, if not two-facedness and pretense and dishonesty? If she believes at all in what she is trying to preach those in Government, she should have already shown her honesty and asked her party to reimburse to the exchequer whatever amount has been spent on advertisements with her picture in them and asked her yes-men in Government to stop at least showing her picture in Government advertisements. This will certainly not happen and she will still keep looking at her picture in the advertisements and smile to herself. And the sycophantic ministers will keep misusing their authority to show their own picture along side hers, and feel as pleased as she would. Even Pranab Mukherjee the Finance Minister does not have the courage to do what he should have done in this matter i.e. ask the Congress Party or Sonia Gandhi to pay up for the advertisements. Is it not ironic that the ministers who are working in Government and responsible to the people have to curtail their expenses whereas someone who preaches such austeriy but has absolutely no accountability continues to enjoy free publicity at expense incurred illegally by the Goverment just as in the case of Mayawati? Obviously for Sonia Gandhi, austerity begins at home - someone else's home.

The party and the Government have indeed been developing an odious record when it comes to hoodwinking the people. The present Farce on Austerity is just a manifestation of that mentality. Let the people pay their taxes and let them not worry how it is spent. They can wait for a new version of the Farce in the next season.

26 Comments:

At September 20, 2009, Blogger BK Chowla said...

Congress must be having the last laugh.Aam aadmi is dying because of inflation and Congress has very smartly diverted the attention of the nation towards austerity.Congress also knows that the opposition party,BJP, practically does not exist and is taking maximum advantage,,,and why not???it is politivs.

 
At September 20, 2009, Blogger दिनेशराय द्विवेदी Dineshrai Dwivedi said...

Agreed with Mr. BK Chawala

 
At September 20, 2009, Blogger Basudeb Sen said...

The Austerity - Farce article is a good piece of analysis. But it is of as irrelevanyt and insignificant as the austerity drive itself. More important question that needs to be answered is what's inherent in Modern Prajatantra that makes all this farce possible and makes Prajatantra appear as Farce?
Modern Prajatantra throughout the World is a nothing but Monarchy based on distributed Monsobdari of the Mughol tradition. People vote to elect their representatives, the representatives decides who will share what powers and benefits among themselves, the political party functionaries play an useful role in mediating the process of such power and benefit sharing. So what has happened as has been shown in the analysis of the article is something to be naturally expected in Prajatantra. That newspapers give publicty to such political actions is also a natural fallout of prajatantra. Prajas are all interested in reading such stories and engage in debate over what what their elected representative heroes. herones are doing in the same way as they do in the case of fil heroes or cricket heroes. That is only benefit that the people derive from Prajantra and democracy.
If one is serious about the modern version of Prajatantra and Democracy, one should lay bare the hollowness and exploitative character of the old Monarchy Royalty with distributed Mansobdary in the new bottle of Republic Democracy.
One of doing this is to ask, why Governments cannot cut expenditure on cabinet and Parliament by 50%? Why can't the expenditure on MPs and MLAs on travel, accomodation, salary, sitting fees/ daily allowance as also the expenditure on their staff allocated by the Government be part of their budget of spending on the development projects of their constituencies so that people would know how much has really gone to the projects and how much is accounted for by the elected representatives' own expenditure? Again, why do Government's have to advertise in various Newspapers about the inauguration iof projects, trains, facilities? Why such expenditure be made by the Govt? The newspapers should be publishing them on their own and TVs and internet sites will also publish such events because the people buy newspapers at their own cost to know what is happening. Why should newspapers and magagines industry business be subsidized by spending tax-payers' money? These are done as these forms part of the modern republics and democracy.
It is not merely that one party getting free publicity with one kind of farce, the Leftists got the same by talking about 123 agreement sometime back and the BJP leaders by debating over Jinnah - that such free publicity produced negative results is their foolishness: the Congress party seems clever.
You are right: austerity like charity begins at home. But to be in the business of beng elected representatives of the people and functionary of the people-friendly political parties is not meant to be one of living an austere life. It is rather for living better at the cost of the people's money. The contradiction lies here.

 
At September 21, 2009, Anonymous madhavi mankar said...

with reference to what chowla says, i agree with most except that the people no longer should use the political parties in power or opposition, as crutches and rely on them to do everything.

it istime for the people themselves to make their voice heard if true democracy has to be created.

 
At September 21, 2009, Anonymous straight truth said...

excellent article which highlights how people are being taken for a ride by the bogus actions of the politicians who cannot be considred leaders in any sense.

 
At September 21, 2009, Blogger Basudeb Sen said...

In Monarchy, people are not taken for a ride: they are oppressed straught away with full disclosure. Democratic Republic is a cleverly desiged political system to take the oppressed people for a ride. Time has come for alternative political regime design where the State is given the least power and money: the people who serve the State machineries are those with talent and quality but prepared to only slog as servants with virtually no power and no money.

 
At September 21, 2009, Anonymous Leon D'Souza said...

I say fie to the shallow antics of sonia and her son.

 
At September 21, 2009, Blogger Suman said...

nice

 
At September 21, 2009, Anonymous sm said...

interesting article
Bk has covered very well in his comment.
the time has come people should educate each other how the the indians are fooled by few kings.

 
At September 21, 2009, Blogger Dr. VIDYUT KATAGADE said...

What began as a strong Lokadhikar statement has received a sane boost in what Sen (Vasudeo) has added. This should spread farther than just this blogging activity.

vidyut

 
At September 21, 2009, Blogger keepcool said...

It is an excellent analysis highlighting the hypocrisy of Congress led by sonia.

sen has made some valid comments but they go beyond the scope of the present article which is focussed on an immediate event.

the larger issue is what Lokadhikar stated in the last two paras of earlier article "Independence Day".

the people should no longer rely on one or another political party but have to lend their own voice, as madhavi has stated.

 
At September 21, 2009, Anonymous Narasimhan, Chennai said...

bkchowla comment is on a tangent. we cant see things any more in the context of what opposition is doing or not doig and how the ruling party takes advantage etc.
this is for the politicians.

for people what matters is a govt. that deceives the people for which people themselves have to protest.

 
At September 22, 2009, Anonymous Khan said...

referring to comment by sm and katagade, i feel that such analytical articles need to be forwarded to be read by as many people as possible to create a strong opinion.

although the message will spread slowly, people must start to think.

if we dont do anything nothing will happen except that we will keep getting more opportunities to grumble and complain with no result

 
At September 23, 2009, Anonymous mamushka said...

time has come for ppl to say what they think and not keep quiet.

i've sent this article to many frnds.

 
At September 25, 2009, Blogger kick-da-scoundrels said...

these con-men have once again fooled da ppl.

y v tolerate them

 
At September 26, 2009, Anonymous mastani said...

whos the "holy cow" mentioned by tharoor?

Pehchan kaun?

 
At September 26, 2009, Blogger ms said...

austerity drive! 350 crores for a gigantic statue in a city that is 75% slums. 300 crores for parks and her own statues in a state where farmers are committing suicide over loans less than 5000 and also selling off wives and daughters. yeh hai india, dost! tax payers work hard and sacrifice personal comforts and dreams to hand over part of their salary as tax. it is actually "hafta" that the govt demands like any other hooligan or mafia don. the only difference is that when you pay the "gunda" he at least gives you protection. every austerity trip saves 400 to 3000 rupees only!! what wonderful brain came up with this? the same brain that snatches hosting of CommonWealth Games from countries better equipped to host them. now, we have to also bear the shame and universal scorn for our shabby arrangements. pune has imposed fines for spitting because they are scared of swine flu. i wish the whole nation imposes fines for public urinating and defecating. are indian men the only ones in the world not toilet-trained?

 
At September 26, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ms
you have covered various issues. nice

 
At September 29, 2009, Blogger Smita said...

I agree with every word that you have written here. By this well timed "austerity drive"of the Cong, we, the public have been disarmed before we even realise it is time to raise some important questions. The Congress knows it has won with a clear majority on the basis of hard core development issues, and is now preparing itself for the inevitable onslaught of the people.
On a lighter note, you may like to read a satire on a similar topic on http://smitasahay.blogspot.com/

 
At October 01, 2009, Blogger ajay kumar said...

Congress is

 
At October 04, 2009, Blogger ms said...

the latest AirIndia tamasha should silence all those who blindly support its existence

 
At October 04, 2009, Anonymous neelima sandhu said...

now all naatak of sonia and her son has stopped becuz ppl saw through the game and they have shown their anger for fooling the people.

 
At October 06, 2009, Anonymous Brahma said...

Basudeb Sen has described democracy beautifully. Democracy is the artful and skillful tyranny of the few in the name of the many.

Democracy world over is Shakuni-yatva or Shakuni-giri.

If one reads Linga purana, one gets the idea that democracy is really mob rule.

If 20% of the population agrees with something (usually 20% of electorate is enough to get elected) it does not mean it is the truth.

Even if only one mans believes in something and it is the truth - it is the truth. In democracy, this is not the case, if most citizens are fools and decide to elect some amongst them and then they decide what is to be done in the country by passing laws - falsehoods are embedded deeply into each facet of the state.

This is the basic flaw with democracy. King could give no excuses for such falsehoods but in a democracy political leaders will give skillful reasons (excuses) and refer it to constitutional benches and commissions.

Consitution is all about legality. There is no role for dharma and morality in mob rule ie the constitutional democracy.

Constitution, elections, democracy etc are kali yuga ideas.




This government survival depends on taxes and taxes come more inequality - more the inequality more the taxes - if all indians earned 3 lakhs per annum the Indian government would be bankrupt, nashas - more smokers and more drinkers more taxes, more speculation more taxes (STT, capital gains, stamp duties), strong dollar - more taxes, more polluting consumption (cars, plastic) more taxes as compared to using public transport or cloth and stainless steel and taxes on petrol.

Seeing this it is clear why governments will not bring in public transport, reduce inequality, reduce smoking and alcoholism and build the country in an environmentally friendly manner unless there is a crisis.

India never had this large a government in the last 2000 years and despite this large a government there is no governance.

If we want to create change, each one of us should start doing things which will eventually shrink the state. I have started this

The simplest idea is "aparigraha" and idea which is 2000 years old ie living simply with only things which are required for living ie avoidance of waste, greed and wanton luxury.

I cannot change anything but myself and so I have started doing this.

 
At October 06, 2009, Blogger kick-da-scoundrels said...

this refers to brahma's longish comment.

while it is true that we do not have a true democracy as we would like, we have to take the constitutional democracy as given for the moment.

at the present time, we have to focus on changing the faulty system in the country which is very close to kaliyugi political system.

sadly, it is not enough if individuals change. we are a country of over a billion people and if an individual only changes himself, it is not enough.

the key is to try and change as many people as possible and encourage them too to do the same. . we should emulate something like chain reaction for a worthy cause rather than writing chain letters to bring luck or some such silly reasons.

 
At September 19, 2013, Blogger prashhanthkpp said...

Brilliant exposition of the luxuries enjoyed by the Congress Party in General and Sonia Gandhi in particular with regard to be it international travel, be it internal travels, be it daily expenses, be it medical expenses, be it advertisements so on and so forth. I mean, the list of the so called austerity measures implemented, rather imposed on the poor tax payer and simultaneously enjoy the extravagance reaped out of it is simply preposterous. Austerity to the Congress means, You, the general electorate can eat sumptuously with Rs 1, Rs 5 or Rs 12 while every day expenses for the five hundred odd parliamentarians exceed 500 Crore!! What can one say anymore than this.

A great narrative Sir. Written with abundant dexterity and wit and fittingly so too. Thanks.

 
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