By T S Sudhir
We are a lucky one billion people of India. We have leaders who are at least trying to lead by example. The country’s finance minister tells everyone to be austere and promptly checks out two of his cabinet colleagues out of their deluxe hotels. His political boss travels economy class ex-Delhi to Mumbai and Bangalore. `Yuvraaj’ Rahul hits a political sixer by boarding the Shatabdi to Ludhiana though some `impertinent’ (railway) gatecrashers spoil the party by pelting stones, raising questions on what is more important : the first family’s security or a few thousand rupees for the country? We will have to wait till their next trip out of Hazrat Nizamuddin.
Not surprisingly, `Sacrifice part 2′ has created quite a hullabuloo in the media and the chattering classes are twittering about it. After all, it was for a very good cause, wasn’t it. It is `A for Austerity’ this season because it is `D for drought’ in large parts of the country. And travelling in economy instead of business or executive class, the leadership reckoned, was a great way to tell a Mallamma in Warangal or a Prakash Kokate in Akola that we care for the poor Aam Aadmi like you.
“On every trip, we save the country atleast 6000 rupees on every ticket. And we refuse an upgrade as well.”
To give credit to the Congress leadership, maybe this was not meant to be mere symbolic austerity, may be the message is that wasteful expenditure is best avoided. Meagre resources can be better spent in a country like ours.
But pause a moment. Leading by example is commendable but who is following the leader? Only their SPG security? Have all our public representatives and their cronies turned a noble shade of austere as well?
`No’ is the answer if you were witness to the mayhem on Hyderabad’s roads on 17th September. Just a couple of days after their supreme leader flew economy, Congressmen from Hyderabad and its neighbouring districts herded (no reference to cattle class here please !) thousands of people to meet Y S Jaganmohan Reddy at his home and shout slogans in his favour. Their decibel levels weren’t so high that sound could reach from Begumpet to Janpath but what they did shamelessly, was to put a major part of Hyderabad and Secunderabad on first gear for a distance of over 15 km, not to count the several choked streets leading to the main roads.
The self-professed loyalists of the `CM-in-waiting’ included actress-turned-politician Jayasudha. The act of bringing a city to a standstill must have been a very different experience for this first-time legislator from Secunderabad, who otherwise made a name doing family roles in Telugu films.
Some 10,000 vehicles honking, road rage and foul tempers for over five hours that day. And petrol costs fifty rupees a litre in Hyderabad. Please calculate the cost of hundreds of vehicles idling, what people would have lost by missing out on important appointments and meetings and above all, ambulances with patients that were stuck helplessly, screeching their sirens out. Send the bills to Ms Jayasudha and to the Congress party.
Ironically 17th September was Hyderabad Liberation Day, the day in 1948, when Hyderabad state was liberated from the rule of the Nizam and became part of India. Unfortunately, sixty one years on, there is no liberation from these modern-day rulers, who curse the `tyrannical’ Nizam rule but are no less than aristrocracy themselves. Atleast the last Nizam of Hyderabad, knew what austerity meant. He led a spartan life though the uncharitable called him a miser. He gave away a lot of his personal wealth and land to build institutions to lay the foundation of modern-day Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh.
A Congress minister told me everyone has taken a 20 per cent cut in salary and what a huge sacrifice it is. “But since the media is cynical about such pay cuts, the austerity drive helps us drive home the point that we practise what we preach,” he explained.
Indeed, K Rosaiah as finance minister in August travelled to Delhi by economy class to attend a meeting on VAT. After all, who knows the precarious financial health of his state better than him. He also travelled the same way on his first trip as CM outside Hyderabad, to Tirupati this week.
But Rosaiah garu is an exception in his own council of ministers. When I meet him next, I want to ask him if I and other taxpayers are paying for the Congress MPs, MLAs and state ministers accumulating frequent flier points between Hyderabad and Delhi to lobby for a CM of their choice. Or is the Andhra Pradesh Congress footing the bill?