Tigers by the tail

Political Tiger: The Bengal tiger or tigress rather, though those famed and feared carnivores themselves may resent the comparison to Mamata, is at it again. For well over a decade, she had fine tuned her roar and honed her fangs to fight the Comrades, her permanent prey. Entrenched instincts die hard and so now this curious cat has no qualms in pawing her own cub by habit, despite the duplicity. This naive nation is expected to believe that the mercurial Madam, who was herself a railway minister and the worst ever at that, was unaware of what her appointee at that monopolised portfolio was up to!

Real tigers are honourable animals and stick to their core dreadful character. But Mamata is a political tiger that had changed stripes too often, figuring in all the assorted alliances that had ruled the country in the last many years. And invariably each of those alliance leaders, BJP or Cong, has come to grief for latching on to the tail of this unpredictable tiger. NDA and the two UPAs have claw marks all over them courtesy Mamata. MSingh breathed a bit easier last May when Mamata left Delhi to stalk Kolkota as CM but the roars never really left his earshot. The claws too are back now, baying for his blood. If the Sardar lets go off the tail the tiger will pounce and UPA will perish. Indeed, the new Railway fares may turn out to be as costly for his tottering regime as it is for the subjects!

Populist Tiger: So granted that promiscuous political tigers, with power hungry prime parties on tow, are ever on the prowl. But there is a more potent tiger’s tail that all parties and politicos, regardless of size or stature, are irretrievably attached to: Populism. It is budget season and from prime-time pundits to pompous politicos to the parched populace, all await eagerly with emotions ranging from delight to dread, as the case may be. In a country where the bulk of the people live by sub-human standards and market economics fly far above their nests, welfare economics cannot be totally dismissed. But this paternal patronising by a duty-bound State is frustrated when the same becomes an alibi for political power plays.

Competitive populism is neither a succour to the deserving nor a substitute for competitive market economics. The populist bill is actually footed only by the people and the inevitable payout will come back to roost at some point in future. Just as eight years on the trot of nil fare hike has prompted the steep jump now. The worst part is that the wily perpetrators of these political gimmicks laugh all the way to vote banks and/or Swiss banks after bribing the voters with their own money! Really no rational policy can be executed in this situation wherein the rulers and ruled have formed such a dubious partnership. The present (possibly past) Railway Minister’s predicament is proof of the pudding that populism is a tiger that is going to grow and growl in our midst for ever!

Pampered Tiger: Conspicuous consumption is a tiger turned monster. Fed by a burgeoning middle India, the real beneficiaries of the boom that skipped the bulk below, this tiger has been bloating and becoming bolder by the day. Rising incomes and retail credit for the asking have rendered this tiger reckless on two counts: First, people are today consuming things that they do not need at all and second, are paying steep prices for things they desperately need. Such horizontal and vertical growth of the consumption tiger has left even the gluttonous and greedy confused while the poor too bear the brunt for no fault of theirs. While bounty is always selectively appropriated, burdens invariably get equitably distributed!

This tiger is headed to financial and social doom and is taking along with all of those tied to its tail. The latest census findings reveal the utter senselessness of modern living. The perverted priorities of a so-called progressing nation are pathetic. The most sensational statistic has expectedly hogged headlines: Over half of India own a phone even while more than half do not have a toilet! So, almost 49.8% ease themselves in the open! I am sure many in that may be talking on a mobile even then, pouring out their hearts … and whatever else. What charity, that the garbage that is consumed in private is given back to society in full public view!

The data exposes the abject failure of the Governments in addressing core needs like sanitation, potable water, electricity and other public amenities. While this affects the have-nots most because they are totally dependent on the State for these facilities, the haves sin by their own volition, against society and self, a lose-lose proposition indeed. This class’s parasitic propensity is at the root of an exploitative, expensive world. Besides, technology and entertainment options are not only playing havoc with their own household economies and the ‘roadside’ environments but also skewing core human and civic instincts. That people with some extra cash would rather spend it on a TV or a mobile phone than on an usable toilet or clean water proves the contamination of the mind. For the record, the rich-poor and urban-rural divide remain stark: The former hold the tiger’s tail while the latter are already getting crunched between its teeth!

And having reached tail’s end, it is time for this paper tiger to sign off.

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