Understanding Austerity in Politics
…austerity for Congress is just as Hindutva is for BJP. Nobody in saffron party is sure about what exactly party means by Hindutva. Likewise, no congressman knows what is meant by party’s concept of austerity, or for that matter, what austerity is in today’s political context. Invisible rulers’ austerity serves no political purpose so no political party is supposed to argue for it…
A fortnight already gone, but dust has still not settled down on Congress party’s austerity drive hitherto. The argumentation that is on in political corridors and commentariat, strictly for-or-against-type as is obvious, looks more like a college debate competition with mind boggling arguments and counter arguments thrown in to draw a fine line between right and wrong with barely any middle space. Well, the matter, far from being any political party’s recommendation to its ministers for a kind of lifestyle, demands austere rumination on what exactly austerity is in current Indian context and where it is needed, and how much.
To begin with, give a thought to traditional Indian concept of austerity. As a lifestyle, it was expected of people in some specific trades; teaching, preaching, for instance, that is to say, of those who set examples in society for others to follow. It was expected of a common household and rulers, too. Rulers’ austerity, though, was quite different from that of teachers, saints and so on, for rulers had dual responsibility to shoulder, of being austere and being rulers at the same time, so a king wouldn’t renege on Rajmahal, Rajbhog, Rajvastra, Rajvahan etc (the symbol of his state’s prosperity and happiness) but he ought to renounce Rajsukh without appearing to do so (to have concerns for redressal of problems of his not so well-to-do and adversity-stricken subject) as King Rama did.
Give a thought to traditional Indian concept of austerity. As a lifestyle, it was expected of people in some specific trades; teaching, preaching, for instance, that is to say, of those who set examples in society for others to follow.
I think what is expected of politicians or ministers, ethically or morally, from whatever vintage point, is the rulers’ austerity, not teacher’s or saint’s or common household’s. But here is the common question (confusion): is it really so in a democracy in which rulers are elected by common man?
The ongoing austerity discussion hinges around two points. One, democratic concept of political austerity the larger inspiration of which is Mahatma Gandhi; two, the political compulsion of austerity. Mahatma Gandhi’s entry into politics was purely for the purpose of revolution seeking social, political changes and for that he wanted to connect with as many people as he could. His idea of doing that was adoption of common man’s life style. He attired himself in a hand-woven dhoti of khadi, a common man’ wear of the period, and threw away expensive English suits. He simplified his living and whatever changes he brought in his life became an ideal for that time’s modern political austerity.
Congress party is attempting to resurrect austerity in yet more modern form. Its austerity is symbolic and meant for, as Congressmen would put it, giving poor – those affected with drought – the feeling that people in government are not cut off from their reality. Exactly, it has nothing to do with saving money or financial constraint or economic recession; austerity drive can practically help none of these.
For deeper insight into the matter, I must put forth broad analysis and keep rulers’ austerity, Mahatma Gandhi’s austerity and Congress party’s austerity side by side for comparison. Rulers’s austerity and Mahatma Gandhi’s austerity are quite different. According to shashtras and other identical texts, rulers’ austerity means simplicity of thought and personal life so that there is no greed, lust, or desire for luxury and comfort, though in people’s eyes King might be living in Rajmahal, wearing Rajvastras, eating Rajbhog, and traveling on Rajvahan. He should use them all without indulging in them. He should know ground realities of his subjects, must feel for them and solve their problems on first and foremost priority sacrificing all comforts of his Rajmahal. This is an internal austerity, seldom visible outside. Rama and Krishna are the best examples of this austerity.
Mahatma Gandhi’s austerity, started as a household’s austerity, eventually turned more into a saint’s austerity. He believed in following it both internally and externally. He had the simplest living, did his work by himself, felt for masses, and had the highest political principles and greatest ethical and moral standards. Unlike rulers, Mahatma Gandhi was part of revolutionary subject that wanted to dethrone a dictatorial empire. Naturally, his austerity had to be far ahead of austerity of rulers or that of a household to actualize real social and political changes.
Sadly, Congress party’s austerity is rather confusing. It wants to demonstrate a modern version of Mahatma Gandhi’s austerity (flying economy class, renouncing five star hotel suites, stopping foreign visits and all) but withdraws public concerns of even rulers’ austerity. Year after year, there is drought in one or the other state in the country but it’s for the first time austerity has come to Congress party’s mind. It’s party’s second consecutive term and it could have in so many years devised a permanent solution of the problem to express solidarity with affected people. Unfortunately, it has austerity, not solution, as answer. Worse still, congressmen made austerity talk so dominating that people even didn’t hear in all that noise if sufficient relief package was doled out to drought affected people.
Congress party’s austerity is rather confusing. It wants to demonstrate a modern version of Mahatma Gandhi’s austerity (flying economy class, renouncing five star hotel suites, stopping foreign visits and all) but withdraws public concerns of even rulers’ austerity.
After probing the grounds – well, I should admit that Rahul Gandhi thinks austerity should be there whether drought or no-drought – on which Congress party has initiated its austerity, all such arguments as people craving for comforts of five star hotels or business class air travel should not step into politics in the first place cut no ice.
Coming to second point, the political compulsion of austerity, it’s no mystery that Congress party is eyeing on forthcoming assembly and civic polls in some states, which, co-incidentally, are scheduled to be held at a time when government either completes or nears its first six months in office. Austerity drive could have been a good way of cloaking critical evaluation of government’s performance by Opposition and commentariat. Nevertheless, Congress party’s own ministers don’t have uniformity of understanding on the topic and this lack of tandem resulted in easier-than-expected fizzling out of the drive. It’s confusion about the concept.
Today, austerity for Congress is just as Hindutva is for BJP. Nobody in saffron party is sure about what exactly party means by Hindutva. Likewise, no congressman knows what is meant by party’s concept of austerity, or for that matter, what austerity is in today’s political context.
Invisible rulers’ austerity serves no political purpose so no political party is supposed to argue for it. While Mahatma Gandhi’s visible, politically influential austerity has outlived its utility – nobody will follow even its modern version, and if some one does, people won’t believe him. Does it mean that any political party can come out with its own style of austerity to befool people as and when it fancies?
Austerity, to my mind, is an everlasting concept as far as politics or governance is concerned. But in post independence era, there’s been no attempt to see political austerity in the context of changing India, progressing economy, increasing Indian influence. Solidarity with not-well-do and calamity-stricken masses is most welcome, but there is better way of solving their problems to express this solidarity.
A political party should try to palpate public pulse on austerity, know about today’s people’s (all economic classes and all age groups) concept of austerity, encourage a debate on what political austerity should be in modern times and then launch such a drive. A drive on people’s concept of austerity, not any party’s.
I’m sure people will Veto any kind of show or demonstration of austerity.