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Five Star Ministers

September 8, 2009

They are two of the more respected politicians in the country. One of them has been a career bureaucrat all his life at the UN. But as fate would have it both found themselves in the recently formed government in the same ministry – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both are from south India – one from Bangalore and the other from Thiruvananthapuram. They do not have a residence in Delhi. Once they became ministers in the Cabinet they had to stay in Delhi. Both have another thing in common – they are men of taste. Mediocrity is not their cup of tea. They like to live life in style. One is a tennis aficionado and the other a cricket enthusiast. I must admit they are two of the more upright Indian politicians. But they had to live in Delhi to discharge their duties. They are humble servants of the people of India. They checked themselves into the kind of accommodation they are used to – nothing sinister I can assure you. One ensconced at Maurya Sheraton and the other in Taj Hotel on the Mansingh Road.  The excuse was that since their bungalows in Lutyen’s Delhi were being refurbished they had put themselves up in the comforts of the two of the best luxury hotels. They had been staying there for the past three months in exclusive suites which jelled with the high public office that they were holding. They were hushed out of the five star luxuries when some journalist chanced upon this minor detail and the news flashed in national newspapers. One has been shunted to the Institute of Foreign Affairs guest house and the other to an innocuous navy guest house. Both are claiming that they had vacated before the news flashed around the country. You must have guessed who I am talking about – the gentlemen’s names are S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor.

I must again admit that both these gentlemen are men of honor and are relatively clean. I can call Shashi Tharoor’s career blemish less till now. It is not their fault – it’s the darned office that they are holding that has rubbed off on them. The Congress party has been embarrassed, to say the least. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have been talking about austerity in this drought year. But still what does one do – these gentlemen are used to certain standards in life, and what is life without a style quotient. These are suave, sophisticated people who cannot do without certain necessities in life. The government is saying that the bill for their three months stay will be paid by the honorable ministers themselves. Both these men are comfortable financially. But a three month’s stay at Taj and Sheraton from one’s own pocket – that is a bit of a joke. Well let’s get the facts right – a suite that costs anywhere from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 per day. And then one must have breakfast, and lunch and snacks and the evening tipple before settling down to a five course meal. And then there are always friends and colleagues who drop by, now that they are located in the heart of the city! And of course, they are not going to wash their own clothes – they use the hotel laundry. Why do people talk of innocuous details? Okay, so one can add another Rs 50,000 per day on food and drinks and .. and … Well a cool hundred thousand per day. Okay, so the hotel gives these gentlemen a hefty discount. Yet a $1500 is the least that these men will be paying per day. That comes to a bill of anywhere from $125,000 to $150,000 for each of our five star minister. That is reasonable, is it not!

Shashi Tharoor has recently written a book on cricket. I am not sure the royalty from the book will cover the intransigence. Both these men must be in a quandary as to where to hide and what to say. These are honorable, verbose men who are never short of words. They will find answer to all that the media has to ask. Come to think of it, was not Hillary Clinton staying at the Sheraton during the Delhi part of her India visit? S.M. Krishna could well have been her next door neighbor, remember Sheraton was Krishna’s home for the past three months. That must have given the minister enough opportunity to further Indo-US relations, I am sure.

I know that both Krishna and Tharoor will wriggle out of this sticky situation by claiming that they have paid from their own pocket. It could well be that the government will compensate these men through other means. There are a thousand expenditure heads that can cover a couple of hundred thousand dollars expense. What I am not sure is whether they will be able to answer to the people of India. There is acute drought situation in parts of India. Bundelkhand is one such place. The situation is so bad that men are selling off their wives to pay off the loans that they have taken (some may say ‘good riddence’ but this is not a joke, this is real life and heartbreaking). The common Indian asks these honorable men questions that I am sure will shut them up. It is true that parts of India are doing relatively well, but then the fact remains that there is a sea of wretched poverty in our country. If Tharoor and Krishna can be so irresponsible and hedonistic, I shudder to think as to what other ministers both at the central and the state level must be doing. There is loot going on out there and no one seems to bother. A tour of the impoverished rural hinterland must be made compulsory for all elected representatives before they take oath of office. And this should be across party lines. I am not pointing fingers at the Congress office bearers only. Politicians across the board are profligate. This must be checked, if we have any respect for our less fortunate countrymen. Besides this is utter wastage of public money. Such wastage is criminal.

Addendum: As I finish writing this, the tech savvy Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Shashi Tharoor has predictably clarified through Twitter that he has spent from his savings the expenses at the Taj Mansingh!!! He has further added that he could not have lived at the Kerela Bhavan as it lacks two things that he cannot live without – a gym and privacy. He went on to say that he keeps visiting Kerela Bhavan though, a crude attempt at not sounding snobbish.

S.M. Krishna has been more forthcoming. The man is unapologetic and cannot see what the fuss is all about. He has said without blinking an eyelid that he will make ‘similar personal arrangement’ till his bugalow gets ready. Which means that he will shift to another five star hotel. He is upset because he has paid for his stay all through.

Addendum: Austerity Drive and Flying Economy: There has been a massive debate about the austerity measures that the nation needs in this hour of crisis when the rains have been less than normal. The Congress Party had earlier asked their MP’s to take a 20% cut in their salaries. Now Sonia Gandhi wants them to fly Economy Class when they are entitled to Business Class travel. There has been a furore among the MP’s and they are resisting with muted voices. However, such austerity intitiatives are limited to the Congress Party only. The BJP and others including the Communists have not taken any such lead. Communist leaders like D. Raja and Gurudas Dasgupto have also rejected such austerity drive and they refuse to commit themselves to flying Economy. The lack of empathy for the poor in India is mirrored in the way the MP’s across party lines refuse to give anything from what they believe is their right. There is this one lone crusader in the lady from Orbassano, Italy now a pucca Indian who has made it very clear that her MP’s need to be more sensitive to the situation in the country. It is amazing how one person can make such a difference though she is only a naturalized Indian. Shame on us. The media is reducing this to a gesture to win votes. The media needs to educate themselves. The austerity drive will not fetch Congress votes in the upcoming Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Arunachal elections. It could well be that the Congress does not do quite as well as one would believe, in these elections. But that is not stopping Sonia Gandhi from doing what she thinks is right. As for the Communists, the less said the better. They talk about the poor and the underpreviliged, and that is it. They can only talk. The Speaker may ask all MP’s to follow the austerity norms during this period of crisis. But it is very unlikely that there will be a blanket order to such effect. Pranab Mukherjee had to placate his MP’s by saying that this austerity drive is just for one year. It is amazing how cocooned these representatives of the people are.

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