Austerity – Business Class vs Cattle Class Discussion Does Matter

I was resisting writing on the austerity talk that has sprung up in India. But the media has now taken the discussion in such a nonsensical direction that I feel forced to air my views. Not that my views matter, but just feel better that way.

India is facing one of its worst droughts in recent times and so the Congress party announced with much fanfare some time back that all of its members of Parliament will take a pay cut. It then found that a couple of its ministers were staying in a five star hotel for months together instead of staying in their official residence and so asked them to move out. Several leaders and ministers have now started flying economy instead of first/business class.

TV in India today is in a transitional and confused state. I watched a show ‘We The People’ a couple of days back and I couldn’t believe that not one panelist was talking sense (or my version of it). Most were saying that the austerity drive was a joke. One editor said that he had not flown economy class for 20 years, so why should our ministers. A Congress MP was tom-tomming about how his party members had taken a pay cut. I am lost.

I will try to address what I think are the highlights of this discussion –

  • Ministers & five stars – Our ministers, Mr. Tharoor & Mr Krishna have said that they were paying for their many months of stay in 5 star hotel from their own savings. I don’t think anyone in India believes them. Even Bill Gates won’t waste his hard earned money by staying in the presidential suite of a 5 star hotel for 3 months. What was done was seriously wrong and using lies to cover up has only made matters worse.
  • Pay Cuts – These pay cuts are especially silly because these will only hurt the handful of honest members of parliament. For the majority, their govt. pay as an MP wont constitute even 1/10000th of their earning. The corrupt would happily take even a 100% pay cut. Pay cuts are no measure of austerity.
  • First vs Business vs Economy – If our elected representatives are really sincere about showing their concern for the masses, traveling economy does make sense. While the Indian media ridicules the discussion on business vs economy class, I do appreciate the MPs who opted to fly economy. If the MPs do things that inconvenience them, it shows some concern and interest in saving for the drought affected; and economy class (cattle class) is anything but comfortable. Also first class usually costs 5-10 times more than economy, so the savings will also be significant.
  • Austerity – The ministers are free to have lavish weddings and parties if they are spending from their own pockets. If they are spending the peoples’ money they have a responsibility to spend in moderation. Now moderation is a subjective thing, so best is to make all expenses public and easily accessible. Let the people see how moderate our netas & mantris are.

An oft repeated reference on austerity TV discussions these days  is of Sarojini Naidu’s statement about how it was very expensive for the government to keep Mahatma Gandhi in poverty. It’s amazing how far India has come from Gandhian thought, that even his willingness to live like the suffering masses is now being ridiculed.

Overall I am all for the austerity drive. I think it makes sense and was the need of the hour as our elected representatives and bureaucrats have been spoilt silly with decades of extravagance. It is high time the govt. establishment is trimmed down to manageable proportions.