If Eknath Khadse is emblematic of how crassly insensitive our politicians can become, can be, the row over Priyanka Vadras’ (or Priyanka Gandhi’s) house rent is equally disturbing.

The only thing is, we have forgotten ‘getting disturbed’ over such ‘undemocratic developments’.

Not so long ago, a senior party leader of Congress, the party of Priyanka Gandhi’s mother Sonia Gandhi and her brother Rahul Gandhi, Mr. Kapil Sibal, had taken a house in the same tony location, Jor Bagh, though certainly not as posh and VVIP as Priyanka’s house is, and less than half in size, for a whopping monthly rent of Rs. 1600,000 or Rs. 1.92 crore a year.

Now, let’s jot down the obvious:

Priyanka Gandhi pays a ‘super’ subsidized rent of just Rs. 31,300 a month for her Type VI house in Lutyens’ Delhi.

The house measures 2765 sqm in size and reports say that no such big house with all its natural extensions like lawns and amenities is available for rent in the area Priyanka’s house is located.

If we go by the reports of sky-high rent being paid by Kapil Sibal, the minimum that Priyanka Gandhi needs to pay as rent around Rs. 35 lakh a month. And even then, the rent cannot match house’s expanse and location.

Priyanka Gandhi was given this house in 1997 at a monthly rent of around Rs. 53,000. Her request for subsidized rent was accepted in 2002 and her rent was fixed at 8,888 by the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Now, the person who fixed it can only tell us about this interesting combination.

The revelation here is, the loss to the public exchequer since 1997 – because even a rent of Rs. 53,000 a month for a larger than life bungalow in India’s most VVIP zone in Delhi, a city where people are cursed to live in cramped houses and flats, was a jaw-opener for anyone – for its sheer meekness.

Let’s go by the simple logic – that we common folks have to shell out 10% more every year on our housing rent. That makes it roughly around Rs. 350,000 a month after these 20 years – for Priyanka’s Rs. 53,000 in 1997.

Her current house rent of Rs. 31,300 is more or less in line with this ‘annual 10% hike’ norm. So, it is a direct loss to the public exchequer – running in millions – when India’s successive governments have failed to define a proper poverty line in the country – a political class that still accepts the wisdom of expert panels that find a person above poverty line if he earns Rs. 40 a day or so (Rs. 32 rural and Rs. 47 urban) – even if Rs. 40 cannot earn a decent one time meal on the prevailing market prices.

Like the Bombay High Court said while hearing the petition on water wastage by BCCI on conducting IPL matches in Maharashtra – that it was criminal that BCCI was wasting hundreds of thousands of water in every IPL game when Maharashtra was facing the worst drought of 100 years, when people were not getting water to drink and bathe – this, too, is criminal when poverty, quality literacy, education and healthcare still need critical attention.

How can this paltry sum be justified by anyone, let alone by the party that has been in power for some 60 years of India’s 70 sovereign years?

How can Congress counter this when a simple two bedroom house less than 100 m in size in Delhi costs around Rs. 20,000 in monthly rentals and its goes up to around Rs. 50,000 or so in many upscale areas?

How can Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi justify that Priyanka Gandhi indeed needs a ‘super’ subsidy for her housing rent when Robert Vadra, her millionaire husband, claims that ‘he always had enough and he didn’t need Priyanka Gandhi to enhance his life’?

But nothing will move folks, except some hue and cry. It will die down soon. That is the state of affairs in Indian politics. That is the standard here.

Be it BJP for Eknath Khadse or Congress for Priyanka Gandhi – the colours fade into oneness, the lines blur when it comes to ‘certain’ political compulsions. It was a BJP government in 2002 that had ‘super’ subsidized Priyanka Gandhi’s housing rent. It was a BJP government that had retained Robert Vadra on ‘no frisking VVIP list’ at the country’s airports in 2014 in spite of strong reservations. It is a BJP government in Maharashtra whose minister has made mockery of farmers’ plight by wasting precious water even if his chief minister says in the Bombay High Court that the IPL matches could be taken out of the state to save water.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/


They are quite a lot, in our kaleidoscopic politics, be it any party, including its newest entrant, Aam Aadmi Party, though the malaise there has not reached chronic levels.

In fact, if any factor that has been a constant irony in an otherwise robustly functional Indian democracy, it is about our politics, that has dragged us back, that has let us down.

Yes, there have been and there are good politicians but they have always been a rare breed.

Most have been – like in the category of Eknath Khadse – being parasitic on us – even if we are being forced to die – because our politicians have not been able to take us away from the pangs of an agricultural economy dependent on rains – even if we have seen almost 70 Independence Days.

When Maharashtra and India are witnessing one of the worst drought years, such apathy, such callousness can only be expected from a politician. Mr. Khadse saw it unfit to take even 40 minutes of road, even if he was rushing to take credit over dead bodies. Yes, Marathwada and Vidarbha crisis is as much man-made and as it is nature inflicted.

IPL was a symbolism. Its court-forced shift from Maharashtra for wasting water in maintain pitches when the state is reeling under severe drought is a lesson for everyone to get back to the business of humanism, to get sensitive to the cries of people dying, to contribute as a social obligation for your place in society.

But who will tell this to our politicians, politicians with their fiefdoms who are as much a culprit as nature in forcing droughts in lives of the common men of this country. The biggest water guzzler in Maharashtra, the sugarcane industry, has names of some of the most prominent Maharashtra politicians as its barons.

Yes, they employ thousands in their factories, but are they beyond this basic tenet of social behaviour – that you have to care for the survival of your fellow human-beings. In fact, it becomes all the more imperative for them to come up with alternatives to compensate for the cruel exploitation of natural resources, in this case water, in a drought year, as they are from the bunch who is entrusted with writing policy guidelines in crisis hours – like the Maharashtra drought of the these days.

But our politicians have made it a habit to fail us, even if we try hard to repose our trust in them.

What Mr. Khadse did was akin to mapping another level of bad politics, something that politicians like Mr. Khadse feel adept at. Books and articles have been written on how a drought is eagerly awaited by bureaucracy and politicians in India – with free flow of resources and credit to exploit.

IPL’s forced shifting from Maharashtra is a defining moment for all of us and Mr. Eknath Khadse should have thought 100 times before going on his ‘helipad bravado’ that wasted some 10,000 litres of water, 10,000 litres that are lifelines for many families. He could have taken a road journey to receive the water train. Showing a bit of sensitivity would have only helped him in claiming his share of credit in this season of photo-ops, drought-politics (and water politics).

But only if they care! But only if our politicians care for what we think!

To continue..

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/



It is not the first time and whenever it happens, it tells the gravity of the problem – here in Marathwada this time, facing the worst ever drought in its written history – and Maharashtra facing the worst ever drought in the last 100 years. And Maharashtra has another farm suicide capital – Vidarbha – to make the matters worse.

Together, Marathwada and Vidarbha share the maximum burden of farmers’ suicides in the country – with Maharashtra being the second most dependent state on agriculture after Uttar Pradesh – but the stark irony is – and has been – Uttar Pradesh, though has its share of farm suicides, comes lower in the list of annual data on farmers’ suicides due to agrarian crisis in the country – while at the same time, Maharashtra’s industrial advancement is far better than Uttar Pradesh’s.

This ‘agriculture dependence and industrial progress’ correlation explains partly why Maharashtra sees far higher number of farm suicides than Uttar Pradesh – it’s basically about the mindset that is shaped by the socio-political milieu – that raises expectation levels – from self, from society, and from polity – and makes facing advertise difficult.

It doesn’t mean Uttar Pradesh is doing any better. It is, in fact, far worse than Maharashtra, because the socio-political milieu here has reduced people to mere numbers who don’t matter at all, even for themselves. They probably don’t face the set of problems that a Maharashtra farmer faces because they cannot afford even those problems.

Marathwada’s drought is in its fourth consecutive year and Latur is the worst hit district. The 600 odd water tankers, including the private ones, around 400, have failed to help around 2.5 million people of this district (Census 2011) with an important (and busy) railway station that is said to be gateway of the cultural region of Marathwada. The state water supply comes here once in a week or ten days.

Conditions here are so worrying that Latur has become synonymous with Maharashtra’s drought as Kalahandi had become with Odisha’s hunger problem. And to compound the problem, Latur is not alone – with severe weather condition prevailing in Beed, Osmanabad, Prabhani and many other districts.

After failing to ensure water supply through water tankers and water rationing (including imposing riot control measures like the Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code – against any ‘unlawful assembly’ to queue up for the scarce water), an age-old problem of India due to poor water management practices and flawed agricultural policies (Maharashtra’s water guzzling sugarcane factories in a drought prone belt), the Maharashtra government has now come up with this idea – of supplying water through trains – the ‘water trains’.

And it is not the first time.

In fact, if we go back, we can find examples as early as 1986 when Gujarat used the ‘water trains’ to fetch water to a crisis hit Rajkot. In recent history, these ‘water trains’ have been a recurring addition to the Indian Railways fleet in Gujarat and Rajasthan. I am certain if we look for more, we will come across many more examples. A point to be mentioned here is that a ‘water train’ concept to bring water to drought hit California from the Pacific was criticised in America due to its high cost structure.

Certainly, it will not be that expensive in India. In fact, Latur has been assigned two ‘water trains’ – each with 50 tank wagons. Each tank wagon has a filling capacity of 54,000 litres. Railways will fill 50,000 litres in each wagon. That means each ‘Latur water train’ will carry 25,00,000 litres to the parched souls and land of Latur.

The first ‘water train’ will reach Latur in few hours (as reported). The second will start its journey on April 15 from the Kota workshop in Rajasthan from where the first one left on April 8. Maharashtra has miserably failed to address its water distribution anomalies in the state. Hope this ‘water train’ has a different fate for people of Latur who need around a million litres water a day.

‘The water trains’, with their continued existence, are yet another testimony on how the state has failed to bring the fundamental changes to uplift people in the world second most populous nation with millions of poor and illiterate who survive on agriculture.

But here, the train to Latur, though a reminder of state’s apathy, inefficiency and failure, carries hope for dried up thoughts. Let’s see the hope prevails.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/