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All aboard the scrimp-and-save bandwagon

When Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi decide to walk the talk on austerity — and travel like the aam aadmi — other Congressmen, and even the Left, rush to follow suit, reports Vishal Rambani. The great austerity rush

india Updated: Sep 16, 2009 13:28 IST
Vishal Rambani

When Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi decide to walk the talk on austerity — and travel like the aam aadmi (common man) — other Congressmen, and even the Left, rush to follow suit.

A day after Congress Presi-dent Sonia Gandhi set an example by flying economy class to Mumbai, Rahul travelled to Ludhiana from Delhi and back on Tuesday by AC chair car on the Shatabdi Express.

An HT correspondent travelled by the same train on his return journey to report on what is probably Rahul’s first journey as an aam aadmi.

Dressed in his trademark white kurta-pyjama, Rahul entered compartment C-3 and settled into his allotted seat No. 11. The passenger list pasted outside the bogey’s door showed him as R. Gandhi, 39. His aides and security personnel occupied seats 1-20.

Rahul exchanged a few words with fellow passengers, had a sip of water and settled down with a book. When Ram Swadesh, the waiter, resplendent in a Rajasthani turban came around to take orders, he ordered “vegetarian” — and declined to use the cutlery that was brought for him from the Executive class pantry.

Free movement of passengers was only stopped when some miscreants pelted stones near the Panipat station. One broke through a window and landed inside the bogey next to the one Rahul was travelling in, causing some panic, but no one was injured.

The SPG blocked the entry of Rahul's coach through C2 and C4. The train was also halted for a while. “We have asked the Railway Protection Force to visit the place and ascertain whether the act was by some anti-social elements or someone else,” said a railway official who was on board the train.

The janata-class travelling arrangements follow the austerity measures announced by the Congress in view of the prevailing drought situation in many parts of the country. Ministers are expected to save 10 per cent of their travel and administrative budgets, and the party's parliamentarians and legislators have been asked to contribute 20 per cent of their monthly salaries for drought relief. The total travel budget of the Union government is Rs 2,500 crore per year.

Rahul and his entourage of 20 saved Rs 11,100 on his return journey alone. There are two classes on the Shatabdi - executive (ticket: Rs 1,155) and chair car (ticket: Rs 600). Rahul travelled in the latter.

On Tuesday, the Railways had obviously pulled out all stops to impress its VIP traveller. Sanjeev Sharma, a young advocate practising at Punjab and Haryana High Court and a regular on the train: "The food quality and cleanliness on the train today was excellent."

Passengers in other coaches, like C-2 and C4 said security personnel had combed the train thoroughly.

Earlier in the day, the Left Front-ruled West Bengal decided to announce its own set of austerity measures - pool cars for deputy secretaries, only cashews and biscuits to be served at meetings, instead of snacks as at present, no foreign travel without the finance ministry's clearance, and a cutback on the number of newspapers senior bureaucrats can subscribe to at government expense.

In Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who travels business class, told HT:"We are austere 24x7." His government has not announced any specific measures to save money.