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First, the Indian Express reported that in the age of austerity, "UPA Ministers want Spanish tiles, Italian porcelains... "a Minister of State has demanded a new toilet “on the back side of her seat” in keeping with Vaastu".
The austere "holy cows" of the Congress party did not think it was something worth responding to. The party spokesperson instead decided to join issue with Mr Tharoor's jocular remarks:
"We totally condemn it (Tharoor's comments). The statement is not in sync with our political culture. His remarks are not acceptable given the sensitivity of all Indians," AICC Spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan told reporters.
"Certainly the party does not endorse it. It is absolutely insensitive. We find it unacceptable and totally insensitive," she said when asked to comment on Tharoor's remarks on Twitter, a social networking website.
..."I am only commenting on his statement. It is absolutely insensible," she said when asked whether the party committed a mistake by giving him a ticket to contest Lok Sabha elections.
Meanwhile, one Jacob Joseph, described on his Twitter page as "Director/OSD to MoS(ST), MEA" got into the act to post the above photograph of Mr Tharoor showing him "in cattle class a month ago" and retweeting many tweets favouring his boss and suitably dissing some of the humourless holy cows in the Congress. Here's a sampler:
Sure enough, soon there was a helpful TOI report as well:
Sources close to Tharoor said the minister had taken almost 5 flights from Aug 9, travelling to Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi, and on all occasions he had booked himself in economy class.
"The austerity measures were announced mid-August during the party's working committee meeting but it came into effect later. However, Tharoor has been on these economy flights earlier. He began taking a Kingfisher flight from Mumbai to Kochi on Aug 9," said a close aide.
“As a politician, you have a duty to be austere,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters here last week during his tour of Tamil Nadu. But the travel bill the Congress general secretary toted up during his three-day visit down south ran to seven figures, not exactly a sum the word “austerity” conjures up.
The Congress decided to austerely keep quiet.
But all this talk of cattle and cows had perhaps made it inevitable that the "foot and mouth" epidemic would spread. And sure enough, the BJP joined the fray, and its spokesman, Mr Rajiv Pratap Rudy, added for good measure that Mr Tharoor had not only "blatantly insulted", but had also - mysteriously - "tantalized", a large middle class: "ostensibly mocking their austere lifestyle." He clearly wanted to leave no doubt in anyone's mind that his parsing abilities are no better than Ms Natarajan's:
Mr. Throor has termed economy class in airlines as a “Cattle Class” which outrightly smacks the insensitivity of the minister pounding the feelings and respect of a common traveller. This tantamounts to a deep injury to the self-respect and esteem of millions who travel economy class. The statement of Mr. Throor gives a display of unprecedented arrogance which in a way has been usually witnessed in the congress party.
After letting his OSD take care of the dirty work, Mr Tharoor, on his part, seemed to have decided to play the elder statesman and broke his silence on the subject with the following tweets:
Given the surreal preoccupations of our high-minded prinicpal political parties, it seemed perfectly reasonable to read a report during the day that the VHP and the Sangh Parivar have extended their full support to the hassled minister:
the VHP President said that the fact that Tharoor offered solidarity with our holy cows is proof of his Hinduness. He also dared the press to show one statement in which a “Congresswala” has called our cows ‘Holy’. He also took strong umbrage at Jayanti Natrajan’s statement calling the cattle class reference as insulting. The Gau is given the status of a Mother in ancient Hindu scriptures, and so belonging to her ‘class’ should be a honour and not an insult, he further added.
Read more here
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in the Indian Express:
Just fantasise how different government’s attitude might be if everyone in government was actually asked to arrange for their own house, facilities, domestic help, etc, as others do. We might even get sensible government policy!
...The irony in the case of someone like Shashi Tharoor is that we have moved him from honesty to dissimulation. One may not agree with his choice of residence. But on the face of it, it was at least honest and (if he was paying) did not impose much on the taxpayer. Now he has to pretend that he belongs to a class to which he palpably does not. Where is there more hypocrisy? In the honest admission of privilege? Or in the pretence that you are poorer than you are? Which sort of politician would you trust more?
...Let us have an honest debate about the broad culture of consumption; we need that discussion as a society. Let us have a debate over taxpayer money or policies for the poor. But let us not pretend that forcing austerity on individuals by unmasking hypocrisy is a serious ethical issue.
Read the full article: Anti anti-hypocrisy
Given the recession, the finance ministry had yesterday appealed to all the ministries to observe austerity in view of the pressure on its finances.
The finance ministry had also ordered a 10% cut in non-plan expenditure by way of slashing foreign and domestic travel, publicity expenses and ban on conferences in five star hotels.
Congress party, meanwhile, asked its MPs to donate 20% of their salary towards drought-relief.
It so happened that two of the senior ministers have been staying at 5-Star hotels for over three months, ever since being sworn in: S M Krishna at ITC Maurya and Shahi Tharoor at Taj Mahal because the allotted official residence in both cases is "not ready for occupation".
The Maurya’s Presidential suite on the 16th floor, where Krishna is staying, is so exclusive that the tariff is available only “on request”. The likes of US President George W Bush and Bill Clinton have stayed in these presidential suites. The tariff, though it can be negotiated for longer stays such as Krishna's, is said to be upwards of Rs 1 lakh per night.
The Taj suite, where Shashi Tharoor is staying, is apparently not as fancy and nowhere in the same league and only about 40% of the cost of Krisna's suite, approximately Rs 40,000 per night,
Both the ministers claimed they were paying their own hotel bills, but neither of them revealed the cost of their stay.
The finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has today publicly stated that he has asked the ministers to move into their respective state bhavans.
SM Krishna has now moved to Foreign Services Institute (FSI) guesthouse while Tharoor has moved to an Indian Navy guesthouse.
"I moved out of the hotel on September 1," Tharoor said.
In addition, on his twitter feeds, Tharoor has pointed out the following:
I wld be ashamed if I was spending the people's money. But I'm not - I'm spending my own savings.
yes, it's a non-story. I wasn't spending taxpyr money or using any Govt privilege. I'd much rather be in my official house!
I need 2 things daily that Kerala House doesn't offer - a gym and some privacy. But I visit pretty often and meet people there
What do you think? Is the government right in insisting that the ministers conform to austerity measures even when they are not spending the tax payer's money?