The recent controversy over Mayawati’s currency garland worth anywhere between 21 lakhs to 22.5 crores, makes one wonder whether she lives in the same India as the common man does? Are these inflationary times? Has the economy actually slowed down? One look around us once the television news is switched off, brings us face to face with another extreme form of reality. On one hand is Mayawati, with crores of rupees sitting pretty around her neck and on the other is my maid, Rajwati, with a black thread around hers.
There is no denying the fact that Mayawati must have worked very hard to reach where she is today, more so because of the underprivileged background she comes from. However, the premise on which she was elected by the people of UP was to serve them and ‘not to serve herself’. By no logic can such a blatant display or accumulation of wealth be justified. Even if for a minute one presumes that the garland money shall be used for the good of the public, how can Rs 200 crores that were spent on the 25th anniversary celebrations of BSP or thousands of crores of rupees spent on erecting statues, be justified? That is sunk cost.
Shifting focus to Rajwati now. She too toils very hard for over 16 hours a day for a measly income of Rs 100. She has 5 kids to look after with a husband who earns an equal amount daily. She depends on her masters for her clothes and food. There are no holidays, no weekends, no festivals, no birthday parties, no anniversaries etc for her. She has never heard of the concept called ‘savings’ or ‘luxuries’, as there is never any disposable income left for her. She cannot afford education for her children who are just looked upon as a means of earning additional income the moment they become teenagers.
If both Mayawati and Rajwati work equally hard, then why this stark contrast? A part of it can be attributed to luck, the rest to opportunity but, the gap is too huge to fathom. The rich seem to be becoming richer and the poor poorer.
By no means am I trying to say that people with the means should not indulge in luxuries. We all do but, there is a limit to everything. The politicians are public servants. The money that they unscrupulously spend is not theirs but that of the tax-payers. Mind you, Mayawati is ‘not the only politician’ who has done this. She is just symbolic of this growing tribe of politicians. It would also be appropriate to mention here that not all politicians take advantage of their position. Dr Manmohan Singh would be the best example of this. Some of you may remember that way back in 2004, on one of his international tours as the PM of our country, Dr Singh asked for some currency to spend, much to the surprise of the people around. This just goes to show that there are still many reasons for us to believe in our political system.
For a moment, let us keep aside all other excesses committed by Mayawati for the sake of simplicity except the Rs 200 crores spent on BSP anniversary celebrations. Does she even realise that had she just donated this money to the poor, how many lives would she have enriched? Presuming the average daily income of an urban poor is Rs 100, she spent in one day an amount equal to the daily income of two crore urban poor!
Instead of blowing away this money on a rally, had she given this money to two crore poor people, they would have got a day’s off out of their 365 days-a-year work schedule. Or, they could have treated themselves or their families with good food, new clothes or simply some rest and peace of mind for a day, things that are considered luxuries for them. But, why would she do this? By no means would this have been an act of charity. It would be foolish on my part to even suggest this. She would have instantly won at least two crore votes! What better way to defeat her opponents? As regards the legitimacy of such donations, we need not worry. When she can manage to allocate Rs 3,000 crores for the statues in UP or wear another currency garland right after the first one was publicly criticised, she would find a way out of this as well.
This issue reminds me of the growing debate on the Women’s Reservation Bill. The proponents of the Bill believe that if women are in power, they would do good for the womenfolk at least. If this is true, then Mayawati could have used the afore-mentioned Rs 200 crores for improving the plight of women, if not poor people in general. She has not and there is little evidence to believe otherwise. Hope the pro-Bill people are listening.
To conclude, it may not be incorrect to say that it may be too much to expect from some politicians to think of the public good, but if they get some incentives for doing so, they would not hesitate. All that is required for some politicians or their partymen is to think out-of-the-box and come up with innovative strategies like the above-mentioned strategy of winning two crore votes. This shall be a win-win situation for all. Their constituency would get developed and nobody shall ever doubt their intentions. The result? Votes, votes and more votes…
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer and an LSR (DU) and IIM Lucknow, Noida Campus alumna.)