Pompous Parasites

She started her Presidentship by bringing to the high Constitutional position a scandalous legacy. Her earlier political avatars in similar, though lesser, posts were characterised by a parasitic tendency to prey on public funds. She had lived true to that trend all through her five-year tenure and is ending it in her signature scandalous style. As President Prathiba Patil gets ready to vacate R Bhavan, her famed personal proclivities have ensured that she would leave a poor nation poorer by several hundred crores, plus a few more, considering that there are still two months left.

The costs to the country on account of Prez PP’s spending spree are all well documented. A few samples: The blatant attempt to appropriate defence land meant for war widows for her own retirement home was the most apalling of this President’s parting punches. Around 2,60,000 sq ft of hot property in her home town of Pune and 4750 sq ft residential building were in the offing as offering from a gratuitous State for her sterling services to the nation! Though vigilant activists ensured that PPP backed out, the sheer audacity of her act stinks. And instead of apologising the unrepentant First Lady actually feigned hurt.

The President, which term shall include her family, turned out to be a passionate traveller. The Almighty’s approved celluloid agent Arunachalam could actually get a tip or two on how to burn millions in a month from the nation’s premier personality. A 4-day presidential pleasure trip to Goa last month with near, dear and over 35 personal staff cost the exchequer Rs15 lakhs. While just a luncheon session at a plush resort blew up over two lakh, the rest went for five-star accommodation for the accompaniments besides towards exotic holiday indulgences. All this could have been deemed ‘official’ as the Government claims if it was the President who went rowing, skiing and diving, as US Presidents do! Instead, the first family made the most of it, of course, under the doting watch of their powerful benefactor! Such Bharath Dharshans were rampant in her term.

But the footloose President found full form only in her all-too-frequent foreign forays. No doubt PP being away from India, sparing tourist places and holy spaces of her VIP presence is by itself a huge relief, but it comes at a very steep price. As of date, her overseas jaunts have touched a record Rs 205 cr, and counting, for we know not her next two-month calendar. These junkets, with all their hype about diplomacy, naturally involve a larger entourage and therefore, larger expenditure. Since Presidents are generally old, a generous dose of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are guaranteed. A liberal sprinkling of media personnel complete the privileged passenger list. So, everytime our own version of Air Force One takes off on this futile free ride, it leaves behind a huge crater in public coffers at ground zero. The profligacy apart, the posturings are even more palpable. The sight of P.Patil touching the seat on which Mahatma Gandhi sat after he was evicted from a train in South Aftica reeked of pompous, hypocritic symbolism. All of Gandhiji’s writings on his experiences in SA were about thrift, humility and straight talk! Such homage is an insult.

I have always wondered why any country would invite our President. Do they really respect a post or person whose constitutional stature in the country of origin itself is purely ornamental? Surely, and thankfully at that, our President is not a monarch who can at least offer photo ops. Why should they indulge even if an invite is a diplomatic formality? Since our Presidents’ word does not bind our Government, how can other nations take their utterances and assurances seriously? What can the President, who is a rubber stamp even on home turf, achieve abroad without the help of the Hand handling it here? The UPA has defended Prathiba’s excesses on the count that they have brought benefits to the nation. As much benefits as that Goa trip, for sure. But worse, it has claimed that the expenses are borne by the host country. The shameless act of dumping our parasite on a foreign people apart, only an RTI query would reveal if it is our own embassies that are the surrogate hosts.

Even posts (like MPs) that are deemed essential for the functioning of a democracy fail the tests of affordability and equity. The purposeless but expensive Presidential visits abroad tempt one to revisit the very necessity for such useless Constitutional appendages which are mostly colonial vestiges. Though Legislative Assemblies have vanished from most States, Governors, for instance, remain, as great gobblers of prime official real estate and tax money. And when their ceremonial 5-yr tenures themselves are a drain on the people, there is the future price tag of their maintenance in undiminished style! Small wonder, ex-speakers too are demanding such perks now.

Posts as Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Governors are invariably intangible payouts for past political services. These are Constitutionally sanctioned scams sans legal shackles. The onus is only on the incumbent to exercise a conscience decision, realise the post’s real worth which is zilch and remain within limits. But then such a person may not seek these posts at all, in the first place.

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Jawahar T R