We need to end the culture of VIP Raj in India

Today’s post is really a general observation about some facts that I learned recently and found very frustrating. Let’s start with this report that just came out

There are many levels about this that are both hilarious and outrageous. So a Communist former MP from Bengal was booking scores of train tickets and collecting reimbursements. He would travel on just a few of them. Who knows what he was doing with the rest? This is especially hilarious because the MP happens to be a Communist. I am sure the party’s top comrades will find a way to blame this on “reactionary forces”, the CIA or the bourgeois.

But let’s come to all the levels of outrageous. First of all, why has the name of the MP been withheld by the government? The accusation, prima facie, seems to be that of misappropriation of public funds. Rs 1.7 lakh may not be a lot of money, but we the people have a right to know. Why won’t government release the name of this MP? And why won’t this person face criminal prosecution?

But there’s something even more outrageous. Why are former MPs even entitled to free AC-I travel? It’s freaking expensive! This freebie evidently serves no purpose, especially considering that it’s being given to even former MPs!

This is the VIP Raj culture. The VIPs get to squeeze out every penny they can, by means legal or otherwise, like officers of the British Raj.

Train travel is small potatoes. A few years ago, I found out a curious rule for MPs. When they travel on Air India, their tickets get reimbursed. But over and above that, they get a “Dearness Allowance” equal to 25% of the price of the ticket. That’s not a reimbursement…that’s money straight into their pocket.

Imagine how that works. Suppose you need to travel from Delhi to Bengaluru next month. You check the price of the ticket and say it is Rs 10,000. You could buy the ticket now. It would be reimbursed plus a DA of Rs 2500.

Wait! Why buy the ticket now for Rs 10,000. Wait until one day before the journey. The price of the ticket could go up to Rs 30,000 by then. Buy it on the last possible day for the highest possible price. If you buy it at Rs 30,000. your DA will be three times as much! The more taxpayer money you can spend, the more money you will get in your bank account.

That’s ridiculous. And as expected, the Communists dominated the top 10 rankings in terms of collecting this money. Despite having the lion’s share of MPs in both houses, no BJP MP figured in the top 10 from the Rajya Sabha. In the Lok Sabha list, there was just one BJP MP in the top 10, coming from the Andamans. Perhaps he is the only person who can justify such high travel costs.

See, that’s great for the BJP. And a bit touching. But not enough. The government should simply abolish this rule and not let any party take advantage of it.

Here is something else that bothered me.

In his three years as RBI Governor, Dr. Rajan received a total of around Rs 60 lakhs as salary. But he received Rs 71 lakh in moving expenses between Chicago and Mumbai!

This reminds me of the way British Viceroys would arrive in India in grandeur, with trains of servants carrying all their luggage to the Viceroy’s Palace. Why is this culture still in place?

When you read the article, it gets worse. Apparently, as a farewell, he is allowed to take gifts worth up to a maximum of Rs 50,000.

Now, Rs 50,000 may not be a big amount for someone like Rajan. But even so, why? If he receives personal gifts from people, that’s fine. But why gifts from govt property? Again, it’s like British officer leaving for the mother country after a stay in the East. And Burra Sahib is supposed to leave with gifts and silks and what not…

So how much Dr. Rajan get as a gift. Costing the full amount of Rs 50,000 of course. Right away, that is unsettling. For him to hit the max amount possible. Imagine a guest coming to your house. You lay out lunch in a large serving bowl. Imagine if the guest turns over the serving bowl into his own plate and eats every scrap. Then goes into your kitchen, checks your fridge and does not leave a morsel of food anywhere before leaving. In theory, you did invite the guest to eat. But the fact that they ate every possible scrap says something about their nature.

And wait till you find out how Dr. Rajan received his gifts worth Rs 50,000. Not in terms of items whose worth you or I can measure easily. He took five paintings, each worth Rs 10,000.

We all know: paintings are worth whatever a small group of elites say they are worth. If suppose it was a car of a certain model, we could look up the market price of the car and challenge the claim. But these are paintings. Each is one of a kind. If RBI says they are worth Rs 10,000, then that’s what they are worth. There is no way to cross check or verify this.

Apparently four of the five paintings are by an artist called Govind Dumbre. Now, Sunday Guardian says his paintings often sell for close to a lakh. But what can we say? Maybe the particular paintings Rajan got just happened to be the worst paintings this Dumbre fellow ever made. We can’t say. Like I pointed out, there is no way to cross check.

Also note that each painting was worth exactly Rs 10,000. In Bhartendu Harishchandra’s famous story, the place of “Andher Nagri” (town of darkness) is characterized by the fact that everything there costs exactly the same. Remember that.

8 thoughts on “We need to end the culture of VIP Raj in India

  1. Disconcerting, Dystopian, Demoralising. I was remembering my English school teacher on whom I had a crush, so decided to try some alliteration.
    But seriously,is this even for real? I bleed taxes every month. I guess that’s my Lal salaam to these people.

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  2. Many years back I was travelling by train. One of the co-passengers was a “freedom fighter”. The freedom fighters could take four co-passengers at a time as support. So this “freedom fighter” made a living out of that. The modus operandi was to tie up with a travel agent, extract the ticket price + an extra amount from last minute travellers and then carry them along. This was in the days before railways started checking ids of travellers.A Delhi-Mumbai ticket in AC-1 was then Rs 1000 so the freedom fighter made a cool Rs 8000 per trip. This was in the early nineties.

    It is disappointing and disheartening that these kind of rules continue to exist. But as Seneca once said – “Why weep over parts of life when the whole of it calls for tears”. The whole is the continuing of white elephants like Air India which cost the taxpayer billions of dollars every year while providing comfortable jobs and pensions to a few elites. And on top of it, state governments loot temples which is like an extra tax on all Hindus.

    The politicians fingers are everywhere. A watchman or a clerk role in a public sector enterprise or a state enterprise is with high probability going to be filled by a politicians relative or friend. And on top of it, these rogues want reservations etc in private sector so that they can hollow out the private sector also.

    Whatever its faults, even the communist party of China has made a significant portion of its population wealth. Our politicians just raid their population and can more fairly be called bandits instead of politicians. LOL Salaam ofcourse tops the list but others are not far behind.

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  3. Abhishek,

    It gets worse – you’ve only scratched the surface.

    Sample these:

    1. A party individual gets elected (Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, state legislature, it doesn’t matter). Assume it’s a one term wonder. S/he gets to have a salary (tax free), housing, housing allowance in his constituency, office rent, amount to pay for staff, free telephone, mobile, unlimited Internet, air travel, train travel, toll-free Highway travels, MPLADS “development capital”, free and subsidized travel for family, free healthcare at any place in the world…

    2. If person does not get re-elected, still gets pension for life. Those who work in government have to work about 30 years to retirement to get a pension, but our legislators only have to get elected for one term to get a pension.

    3. If person gets repeatedly elected, I believe they get pension for each term elected – ie, if elected for three terms, they get pension three times. This needs confirmation.

    Let’s pause and think about this. Our politicians, esp the forever young First Family layabout, are constantly raising the issue of cash payment to the poor, help to migrant families, farmer bailouts… Each of these politicians, in fact, belongs to the world’s largest dole payout program in history.

    Someone should study the total taxpayer paid cash payout to these unproductive elements who get to live in government bungalows valued in the hundreds of crores each, get security and luxurious transportation in addition to all of the above. I am positive it’s some % of the GDP.

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    1. Who can pass legislation to remove these dole? The Legislators. You got it. This reminds me of my supervisor’s joke. “Why dogs lick their ball? Because they can”.

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      1. Unfortunately, this is a problem with all democracies. We elect our representatives to pass laws – and they get to arrange the rules for themselves, too!

        The only solution in such a case is to amend the Constitution to have the concept of Referendums. India should be able to call for referendums to: (a) recall elected reps who have not served the interests of the constituency – ie, local referendum; (b) to overrule or arbiter the kind of salaries and perks that politicians can give themselves – local and national; and (c) to obstruct any legislations that are patently against the interest of the community, society, or the nation at large – national referendums.

        It would be quite novel – ie, to power the Referendums with the ability to counter the lawmakers! But they need to be constrained or they will run the country dry. Of course, you can expect the judiciary to come back and raise its objections. Besides, a Constitutional amendment would require – you guessed it, the assent of all lawmakers around the country. So, obviously, this has to come from elsewhere. Ideally, this ought to have been imagined by the framers of our first Constitution and written into it, though, of course, many things that were written in got dropped along the way by the Nehru regimes.

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    2. This is a problem but NS (and every finance minister) has a fix.

      Tax the super rich to the point of driving them away. Tax the middle class investor on long term gains and take away their gains but not their risk. Make investing in the stock market a rewarding experience for the government but not the investor. Take away Hindu temple money to make it even more sweeter while not touching the other religions.

      The party is called BJP most of the policies are from the Congress era

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