Perhaps the most ironical aspect of public life is that those to enter it with the best of intentions to serve the people almost invariably lose their touch with reality. The disjunction between the leader and the follower becomes apparent soon enough from the former’s lifestyle — his freshly ironed clothes, his bungalows and apartments in posh localities, official car with a beacon light and, for those who have risen even higher, gun-toting commandos clad in black ensuring their security.
But, while symbols of power have come to be accepted by the public as part and parcel of politics and are no longer widely resented, what can be off-putting is the occasional attempt made by the privileged to pretend that they haven’t lost touch with the social ranks from which they have risen. The recent observations of Congress politicos, Raj Babbar and Rasheed Masood, that meals are available for ` 12 per person in Mumbai and ` 5 in Delhi, and Union minister Farooq Abdullah’s claim that ` 1 is all it takes for a filling meal, are examples of such pretence that have been rendered all the more gross because it tends to mock the poor by claiming — falsely, as is obvious — that they are not really badly off.
The compulsions of these representatives of the people are understandable. Ever since the Planning Commission came out with data claiming a dramatic fall in the rates of poverty, the government and the UPA leaders have been at pains to prove that the figures are not the result of jugglery by expert statisticians. But in the attempt to pull the wool over suspicious eyes, they have gone overboard with their absurd claims. Since the last time they must have mingled with the hoi polloi to sample street food must have been decades ago, their memories may have played tricks with the prices of a long-gone period. Their assertion, therefore, amounts to a cruel joke.