Obscene Public Expenditure : Huge amounts were spent by the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh on constructing statues of the former chief minister and her party icons and leaders. What is the motivation? Apparently it is to glorify Mayawati and an attempt to win the heart and minds of the people whose votes are crucial in an election. This gimmick did not work, as is evident from the recent state Assembly election results. People were not impressed by Mayawati’s grand statues. They were frustrated and angry with the dismal performance of her government. Another reason could be that statues are enduring and would be able to withstand the winds of change and thereby ensure immortality for the person commemorated. This hankering after immortality was manifested in some African states which built huge statues idolising their leaders. Many of these statues have since crumbled in the dust and ‘nothing beside remains’ as pictorially portrayed in Shelly’s sonnet, Ozymandias of Egypt.
The crucial issue is about the morality and legality of expenditure of vast public sums from the treasury. The same issue is involved in the expenditure of vast sums of public monies in inserting advertisements in newspapers as was recently done by J Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, supposedly at the cost of Rs 30 crore. People want to know who is paying for these advertisements, where is the money coming from, are these advertisements really required, and what purpose do they serve? A Pubic Interest Litigation (PIL) is pending in the Delhi High Court in which it is contended that spending public monies on ads is illegitimate expenditure whose burden ultimately falls on citizens. A more formidable contention in the PIL is that an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act is committed if a public servant abuses his position and thereby obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage. Obtaining goodwill through advertisements and other promotional publicity stunts could certainly be regarded as valuable and thus attract the Prevention of Corruption Act. The Delhi High Court has taken cognisance of the PIL and issued notices to the director general of the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity, as also to the secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, asking them to respond to the PIL. The fate of the PIL is eagerly awaited.
Legality apart, it seems every vestige of political morality has been jettisoned. Does it not pinch the conscience of the public functionaries that this expenditure on ads for promoting their image or that of a particular political party is obscene in light of the prevailing adverse economic condition of the people? I am afraid the question is premised on the assumption of a conscience in our political leaders.
Asinine Law: Osama bin Laden’s terrorist ideology has resulted in the killing of numerous innocent civilians, including Pakistanis. No memorial service was held in Pakistan in his honour. Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani doctor, helped the CIA in tracking the presence of Osama in the Abbottabad house where he was killed on May 2 last year. One would have expected the doctor to be hailed and honoured for his assistance in locating the world’s most dreaded terrorist. Instead, he was charged with treason under the colonial vintage Frontier Crimes Regulation, convicted and sentenced to 33 years imprisonment. In this state of affairs, one can only despair and agree with Mr Bumble that if this be the law, then the law is an ass.
The incident also reflects the underlying lurking feeling of admiration for Osama because of his ‘heroic’ fight against the US, perceived to be the arch enemy of Islam. The love-hate relationship between Pakistan and US has struck a new low, particularly on account of drone attacks by US planes on supposed militant targets. The paradox is that Pakistan sorely needs US and US cannot afford to lose Pakistan as an ally in its war on terrorism.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own
Soli J Sorabjee is a former Attorney General of India