The insidious campaign against Montek Singh Ahluwalia reminds us of a famous parliamentary debate in 1963, when Ram Manohar Lohia attacked the ostentatious lifestyle of Jawaharlal Nehru, arguing that the prime minister spent more on his dogs than what a poor Indian spent on his subsistence.
People who have neither the intellect nor the public service record of Lohia are using similar arguments to attack Ahluwalia. There was first the controversy about how he had run up bills averaging Rs 2.02 lakh a day on his foreign tours. Now there is the hullabaloo about the fact that the Planning Commission has spent Rs 35 lakh to renovate two toilets.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman, Planning Commission.
Notice a few things. First, the money has been spent on official duties and not, as in the case of the dogs in the Nehru house, for personal gratification. It could be reasonably claimed that such sums should not be spent even for official purposes. Then one would expect the critics to provide comparative data. How much do emissaries from other Asian countries spend when they represent their country abroad? How much have other ministries paid for their toilet blocks? How much would two large toilet blocks cost, anyway? Secure in their moral superiority, these critics will not bother with such inconvenient details. They know better, anyway.
It could be argued that all public servants should live in Gandhian austerity. But then why pick on one of the least obvious targets to make the point? Anybody with even a passing knowledge of probability theory will know that one man among hundreds in the government being asked twice in quick succession about his official expenses is unlikely to be a random event. This seems to be a coordinated attack.
Why Ahluwalia? One theory doing the rounds is that he is one of the few reformers left standing in the ruins that is the United Progressive Alliance; this campaign could scuttle his chances of becoming finance minister in case Pranab Mukherjee moves to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
This newspaper has had its conflicts with Ahluwalia. We believe that the Planning Commission he heads has little role to play in modern India; it should be shut down or at best downsized to become as a strategic think tank for the government. We have also criticized Ahluwalia for his habit of speaking like a quasi-finance minister on issues where the Planning Commission should have no public view.
But that in no way diminishes our respect for a man who has been part of a group of able policy economists which helped redesign Indian economic policy after 1980. By helping put India on a path of faster growth, these men have done far more for the poor than the busybodies and peddlers of poverty porn who are now attacking him.
Are the insidious attacks on Montek Singh Ahluwalia coordinated? Tell us at email@example.com