Folly and first-class flights

Folly and first-class flights

What can bring an off-track, $1 trillion economy, back to its growth path? Any person with some measure of intelligence would say, savings and investment.

If the Union government is to be believed, changing seats in a commercial aircraft, say, from business to economy class, qualifies as saving. The government’s term for this is “austerity", an expression that has a very different dictionary meaning. One can, of course, dismiss the economic significance of the measure. The import of the measure, however, lies elsewhere: It is in the utter contempt that our politicians hold all citizens when they get elected and are beyond the reach of questioning.

No citizen, poor or rich, educated or illiterate, questions the right of elected representatives to basic necessities for doing their job. What is vexing is the pretension that they have the common man in mind when they fly to work or for fun. The fact is they don’t, and the common man knows that.

What is at work here is different. In the age of 24-hour news cycles and the impact of instant communication on political outcomes, leaders fear the news cycle and want to master it at the same time. If they are “seen" flying first class, they fear what the common man may say. If they are “seen" travelling cheaply, then it makes headlines, something they feel will fetch them some mileage among their constituents.

What they forget is that in a country as politically aware as India, not many can be fooled by headline-grabbing stuff. Even if one accumulates good headlines for five years, that will not create a “feel-good factor", as many politicians have learnt to their detriment in recent years.

The surest way to change matters on ground will be to get the economy back on the rails. And to be fair to the government, it has done what it could do in the last one year or so. The various stimulus packages are testimony to that effort. It is a different matter that the government now is doing more damage to the economy by spending more and more.

In the end, what one can say is that the government missed the wood for the trees. Political management of public perception is an important, if distasteful, aspect of modern democracy. But confusing that with economic austerity is a very different thing.

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