Chote Netaji Akhilesh Yadav is a concerned man these days. A man concerned for more than 400 MLAs of Uttar Pradesh. To help them he decided to increase the area development fund for MLAs and MLCs to Rs 1.5 crore from the current Rs 1.25 crore. And then he allowed the MLAs to spend Rs 20 lakh from the increased allocation of Rs 25 lakh to buy a car.
The media did not like the move. And went bang-bang-bang against it, forcing Akhilesh to withdraw the “free car” offer. "I take back the whole decision. The reason behind this is that most of the MLAs have decided not to take the offer after the media hype," he told reporters after changing his decision.
When making the decision Akhilesh had said that a car will provide MLAs mobility and help them do their jobs more effectively. Fair point. Once the electorate of this country has elected an individual to represent them, they need to provide him with the basic things that he needs to carry out his job of representing them, properly.
Given this, a car is surely a necessity for an MLA? There is no arguing with that. So to that extent Akhilesh was right. But the question that crops up here is that why allocate Rs 20 lakh to buy a car?
Cars in India can be bought for as low as Rs 2 lakh. I am no auto expert and won’t be able to tell you the difference between torque and horse power, but I do know that a decent comfortable car can easily be bought in this country from anywhere between Rs 5-8 lakh.
So why allocate Rs 20 lakh then?
Before I get around to answering this question, let me deviate a little and tell you about something interesting that I read in a book titled Spent — Sex, Evolution, And Consumer Behaviour, written by Geoffrey Miller, a few years back.
In this book Miller points out that “Consumerism has deep roots in evolution.” He then explains it with an example. “Why would the world’s most intelligent primate buy a Hummer H1 Alpha sport utility vehicle for $139,771? It is not a practical mode of transport. It seats only four, needs 51 feet in which to turn around, burns a gallon of gas every 10 miles, dawdles from 0 to 60mph in 13.5 seconds and has poor reliability. Yet, some people feel the need to buy it.”
The question is why would anyone want to buy a car which has such poor performance parameters? “Biology offers an answer. Humans evolved in small social groups in which image and status were all-important, not only for survival but for attracting mates, impressing friends, and rearing children. Many products are signals first and material objects later,” writes Miller.
The last sentence is particularly interesting: “Many products are signals first and material objects later.” Just keep this sentence in mind, and let us return to Akhilesh and his Rs 20 lakh car.
Why does an MLA need a car? The answer is very simple and Akhilesh has already explained it to us. An MLA needs a car to go around his constituency. It gives him better mobility. Allows him to meet more people. Travel faster. And spend his limited time in a much better way.
All the above mentioned things can be easily accomplished even by buying a Tata Nano or a Maruti Zen or any car in the range of Rs 5-8 lakh. So why allocate Rs 20 lakh to buy a car?
For an MLA a car is much more than mobility. It is a signal of “power”. It is a signal of the fact that he is an “important” person. These are things that are very important for an MLA to project to the constituency of voters. If he is visiting a particular area of his constituency there has to be a buzz “ke MLA sahab aa rahe hain”. And all these needs or “signals,” as Miller calls them, cannot be accomplished by driving around in a Tata Nano with a ‘red-light” on top.
What an MLA needs is an SUV (sports utility vehicle). A bigger car which conveys a sense of “power” and importance. Driving around in a Tata Nano or any other cheaper car will not convey this. And SUVs are expensive. The good ones cannot be bought for a price of Rs 5-8 lakh. And so your UP MLAs need Rs 20 lakh to buy a car.
The logic is similar to that of politicians taking the risk of going around in “helicopters”, given that so many of them keep crashing and killing them. A politician flying in a helicopter and landing in an open field, dust flying around everywhere, thousands of people waiting to have a look at him and hear him speak, creates a sense of awe, power and importance among the voters.
So will Akhilesh now allow his MLAs to buy helicopters and bill it to the state? That, of course, won’t happen, given that the media has successfully nipped his “car for MLAs” scheme in the bud.
Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org