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Mainstream, VOL LII No 30, July 19, 2014

The Burden of Inequity

Sunday 20 July 2014, by Badri Raina

It is a marvel of nature that worthwhile people may be found in the most unlikely places.

Take Mr Jaitley; civilised in demeanour, a sophisticated listener, quick on the uptake and sharp in repartee, adroit deployer of the well-timed witticism, unimpressed by raucous cheerleaders even if on his own side of the aisle, and, party Whip forbid, equipped to recognise merit on the other side, however reluctantly.

Yet, alas, the travails of office and the mauling oppression of dry-as-dust. A litany of push-pin that absolutely banished the poetry of the ministerial soul. Was there ever in recent memory a more poorly written or a more miserably read Budget speech? I doubt me there was. Any wonder that the so upright Mr Jaitley was brought back down in the pain of that knowledge.

Or was it the text of inequity writ all over his proposals which made this good man inwardly so reluctant to carry on? Could it be possible that he was reading a brief given to him with a heart somewhat absent from its unconscionable allegiance to the greed and lust of those that have? Was he ashamed of the measly morsels intermittently thrown at the have-nots? Did he bemoan unbeknown how much harder it is to defend a richy-rich Budget than to defend the borders? When it comes to the former, a million curses descend; when it comes to the latter, a billion voices sing in uncritical unison. Sigh: how much nicer to be Defence Minister than to be the Finance Minister?

For heaven’s sake, why do the prices keep going up despite our promise that the same will be held down? Why are the onion and his soil-mate, the potato, such disobedient, unpatriotic recalcitrants? Have they no eyes to see that India now has a “nationalist” sarkar? Why don’t commodities, not even a petty matchbox, stay steady when we decontrol and privatise? Why is the market such a treasonous betrayer? The more we pamper it the more it stabs in the back.

But, most of all, who are more treasonous than the fellow Indians who refuse to accept that the good of Bharat Mata comprises the good of her fat cats? Why this foolish insistence on identifying the country with a majority of her people? Why this blind ignorance of theology and scripture which instruct that the goddess Lakhshmi favours some and consigns the rest? Why this communistic disregard of what is enshrined by the gods and goddesses? And how then may a Budget contradict what is so enshrined?

Thus, what a mass of turbulently debilitating cogitations must have been doing their dam-aging work as he sought to read. A cruder Mantri in his place may simply have gloated at the ease and abandon with which the Budget proposals were propitiating the money-bags, at home and abroad, who played such a patriotic role in bringing about the change of government. But Mr Jaitley’s finer mind could not but have been askance at the abandon, leading to those painful hesitations in the flow of his reading. Why else would a man so articulalte and forthcoming with words seem so sadly stricken? Recall the words of the Bard: “thus conscience makes cowards of us all/ and the native hue of resolution is sicklied ov’r with the pale cast of thought” and so forth. Truly, in the self-doubt of his reading, so manifest on his brow, Mr Jaitley did seem second cousin to Hamlet.

It will then be worth watching whether or not in the difficult days to come, our own Prince makes a stand on behalf of the lowly player rather than go with those who have so usurped our own Elsinore.

Arise, Sir Knight, and slay the dragons; or they will not let you rest.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.

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