Mahatma Gandhi may have changed the course of Indian and world history when he undertook his famous Dandi march. But in this day and age, when our babus in sinecure Governor’s postings want to pay homage to the Mahatma on his birth anniversary on 2 October, they need nothing less than a BMW to ply them there.
West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan, 78, was seen being ferried in a brand-new BMW 5 Series car to Gandhighat in Barrackpore on Tuesday to pay homage to Gandhi, the man who symbolised extreme austerity in personal and public life, Indian Express reports.
Evidently, the former Intelligence Bureau official and former National Security Adviser who was eased out in 2010 by Home Minister P Chidambaram into the “soft posting” of the West Bengal governorship wanted to make things a lot more softer for himself.
And although he wasn’t doing badly earlier (he was being plied around in a Toyota Camry, no less), there comes a station in life when you just can’t do without a BMW.
When the Governor’s Secretariat wrote to the West Bengal Home Department putting forward the proposal to purchase a BMW for the Governor’s use, some old-fashioned officials objected to it on the grounds that the State was experiencing a severe fiscal crisis and could ill-afford such gubernatorial indulgences.
It’s hard to believe such old fuddy-duddies still exist in government: perhaps they were officials left over from the Left Front rule in West Bengal.
But when the matter reached Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee‘s ear, she intervened to approve the purchase of the BMW, Indian Express reports.
It’s true of course that West Bengal is mired in debt, most of it inherited from 30-plus years of Left Front rule. Even by conservative estimates, the State will have run up a Rs 2.26 lakh crore debt by this year end.
Mamata Banerjee herself has for long been seeking a moratorium on interest and debt repayment, and a special financial package for her State from the Centre. But when the request from the Governor’s office came in, she perhaps reckoned that it needed to be accommodated.
After all, Narayanan has been batting for West Bengal and pitching for a special package with the Centre. Even when Mamata Banerjee was getting a lot of media flak for her airy dismissal of the Park Street rape incident as “cooked up”, Narayanan spoke up in her defence.
And earlier this year, when P Chidambaram criticised West Bengal’s record of maintaining law and order, Narayanan publicly rebutted such criticism and spoke glowingly of Mamata Banerjee’s record in office.
Some of that, of course, is the result of strained relations between Narayanan himself and Chidambaram, during the former’s tenure as NSA. In the months following the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, after Chidambaram took over as Home Minister, he ended Narayanan’s oversight function in matters of intelligence-gathering.
The turf battle between Chidambaram and Narayanan – over who would have primary intelligence and counterterrorism responsibilities – ended with Chidambaram engineering Narayanan’s soft landing in the Kolkata Raj Bhavan.
In any case, plush BMW vehicles play a central role in governmental affairs, particularly with governments that have to make a pretence of being austere. Illustratively, in June 2004, within a month of the UPA 1 government coming to power, the government went to town tom-tomming the fact that the previous NDA government, under AB Vajpayee, had procured six new BMW vehicles for the Prime Minister’s fleet. The bullet-proof cars, fitted with faxes, GSM phones and built-in jammers each cost between Rs 90 lakh and Rs 1.2 crore.
These were, of course, too plush for the head of the aam aadmi government headed by Manmohan Singh, so the media were fed stories that the Prime Minister had “refused to use the specially designed BMW cars” and that he insisted on travelling by Ambassador cars.
Today, of course, the Prime Minister has been reluctantly persuaded to accept the plush vehicles “in the interest of security.”
And in fact, last year, the Central government directed all State governments to buy bullet-proof BMW cars for the use of VVIPs like the President and the Prime Minister whenever they visited the State capitals.
Austerity, evidently, is only for the aam aadmi. Even in times of financial crises, our netas – from the Prime Minister down to the Governors of indebted States – cannot do without their plus BMWs.
After all, when a State is drowning in a Rs 2.26 lakh crore debt, how much worse can the purchase of a Rs 45 lakh BMW car for the Governor hurt?