Remembering Gandhi

Rupa Gulab

I pick up the newspapers with a great deal of eagerness these days for reports on the UPA's new austerity drive. I heartily approve of it despite the fact that some critics sneer that it is 'mere tokenism' - my answer to them is, so what?  I, for one, deeply appreciate the sentiments behind it, and am optimistic that something good may eventually come of it. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi put it across very nicely in this statement: "Yes, it is about symbolism, it is about sending a message. It is about reminding people about Gandhi, the simplicity movement, the charkha." 

What inspires my gasps and giggles are the reactions to the austerity drive by our patriotic ministers. I applaud Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for unceremoniously yanking Shashi Tharoor and SM Krishna out of 5 star hotels  - despite the fact that they self-righteously whined that they were paying for their extended stay from the family silver and not the national coffer. Time for a reality check, guys. This is India. We don't want our politicians to be pampered and fussed over - we want them to suffer like the rest of us - that way, maybe they'll understand our problems and improve our lives. Get it?

And if you don't, here's a recent shining example: Samajwadi Party MP Jayaprada. How we smirked when we saw that arresting photograph of her screaming hysterically when her bullock cart hit a ditch on a pot-holed road while touring her flooded constituency. I'm no astrologer, but I sagely predicted that the village would get better roads. Sure enough, she promised that the very next day - just so she never has to get her feet muddy again.  See, that's how it works. And I know exactly what MK Gandhi would have said about Jayaprada's sudden act of generosity: "Action for one's own self binds, action for the sake of others delivers from bondage." Hmm. No nirvana in sight yet.

But I'm a little disappointed (for selfish reasons) that despite NCP chief Sharad Pawar's vociferous protests, he was forced to downgrade to economy class. I was looking forward to quoting him to my tight-fisted employer the next time I travel on work: "Sorry boss, I work better when I fly business class." Now my argument doesn't hold water anymore, sigh. No matter, if ever I edit a book titled Memorable Quotes by Respected National Leaders, I'll make darn well sure that Pawar's business class quote is in it, bang next to one by MK Gandhi: "Let no one try to justify the glaring difference between the classes and the masses, the prince and the pauper, by saying that the former need more."   

My affection for Pawar increased considerably when he supported his pro-business class argument with the indisputable fact that his frame was too large for economy class seats. I feel like calling him and generously urging him to take two economy class seats from my share of the taxes. Of course, I'll add a gentle admonition that he should do something to make his frame a little less cuddly. It's not his personal problem anymore - it's matter of national importance. Perhaps instead of chairing important cricket board meetings, he should be fielding instead?  

The icing on the cake though, is what a little bird told us.  I still haven't stopped gasping at the ridiculous debates over Shashi Tharoor's innocuous remark on Twitter: that he would definitely travel 'in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!' Hey, I fly cattle class too and I'm not remotely slighted by Tharoor's remark - I really want the outraged Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan to know this!

Perhaps we can retrofit yet another of MK Gandhi's solemn quotes as a sparkling riposte to Tharoor's tweet: "The half-starved condition of the majority of our cattle is a disgrace to us." And then, on the other hand, perhaps not. None of our grim politicians will get it. Honestly, another thing our politicians need to develop, along with austerity, is a sense of humour.  Or else, they will continue to behave like, and I quote:  "headless chickens". No, MK Gandhi didn't say this - it was diplomat Ronen Sen, and I will never ever forget the flak he faced for it. It's just too bad, isn't it, that it slipped Tharoor's mind?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2009