The government has taken its austerity drive so much to heart that it has decided not only to keep a sharp eye on the public wallet but also on private ones. So, the Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna and his deputy Shashi Tharoor, who had both been staying in five-star accommodation at their own expense in the Capital, pending the renovation of their new homes, have been ordered to pack up and move to more modest surroundings.
This extraordinary show of parsimoniousness, articulated by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, would suggest that the State is otherwise scrimping on expenses.
We can understand the outrage and this peremptory order to shift base were Mr Tharoor and Mr Krishna living off the fat of the land. But no, they were coughing up from their own resources. Now if someone wants to splash out a bit to get on with his work, why should the government get so hot behind the collar? If indeed austerity begins at home, our ministers should not be living in tony Lutyens’ Delhi at all. At a time when we are assiduously building up Brand India, it might look a little off-colour to cramp visiting delegations and dignitaries into down-at-heel premises.
If India is to be seen as a potential great power, surely we have far more pressing things to do than look into what ministers are doing with their private money. This gesture suggests that we still have to shake off our tired old shibboleths that we must be seen to be renunciatory in public life. It may have worked for the Mahatma, but as Sarojini Naidu famously remarked, it cost the nation millions to keep Gandhiji living in poverty.