Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah has found himself in a spot of bother after political rival and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy took aim at him for wearing an expensive watch. Why, asked the latter, would an avowed socialist like Siddaramaiah wear a 50 lakh watch?

Ideological purity, or the semblance of it, can be a harsh master, particularly when austerity has always been such a prized quality in Indian politics—from the praise Lal Bahadur Shastri garnered for his spartan lifestyle to the Congress’s austerity drive of 2009 to rehabilitate its image and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reputation for it.

Now if only the political establishment would untangle private and public austerity. The baroque public benefits that politicians often enjoy—from security to housing—and profligate entitlement spending, all on the taxpayer’s dime, matter a great deal more than how they spend their own money.