A gushingly worded report on a political leader put out by the BBC on November 15 has received ecstatic welcome by netizens all over the world, as reflected by the way they have been filling Web sites, Facebook, twitter and other social networks with admiring references to it. It landed in my email inbox also, sent by a young Indian politician with ambitions to make it to the top. I had to tell him that instead of passing it on to persons of my ilk, he should rather send it to our President Pranab Mukherjee who could then commend it to our VVIPs, after setting an example himself. Let me relieve you of your suspense.

The BBC report is on the simple and austere lifestyle led by President of Uruguay Jose Mujica who has already earned the sobriquet of “the poorest president”.

Just go through a few snippets culled from the report: Rejecting the luxurious official mansion for the President, he lives in his wife’s small house, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo, giving away 90 per cent of his pay to charity.

The BBC correspondent found the laundry strung outside the house, with only two police officers and a three-legged dog, to keep watch outside. The water comes from a well in a yard, overgrown with weeds.

“I’m called the poorest president”, he is quoted as saying, “but I don't feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more…This is a matter of freedom. If you don't have many possessions then you don't need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself.”

CATTLE CLASS

Now let the camera pan to another President, Mahmoud Ahmadinajad of Iran. The Fox TV of the US, no respecter of persons, was forced to go ga-ga about him when it saw that he too lived in a simple house, where he has put only two ordinary chairs to receive visitors. His wife prepares and gives in a paper bag some sandwiches or bread with olive oil and cheese. He eats and enjoys it “with all happiness”.

He looks into the mirror and tells himself every morning: “Remember, you're nothing more than a servant, the day ahead of you is filled with a heavy responsibility, namely to serve the Iranian nation.”

He has handed over the President's Aircraft to carry cargo and flies in ordinary airlines in the cattle class, made famous by Shashi Tharoor.

India too, (what seem like) some eons ago, had a person called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (does the name ring a bell, folks?) who adopted the half-naked fakir’s mode of living, braving sun and rain and hot and cold weather, preferred to live in bhangi (sweepers’) colony right in the nation’s capital, New Delhi, and made even the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, visit him there and sit cross-legged in his presence.

VULGAR DISPLAY

He walked barefoot over bushes and thorns all over Noakhali to bring solace to those devastated by communal violence. He wanted the Viceroy’s and Governors’ sprawling and cavernous mansions to be converted into hospitals and the country’s rulers to live in modest houses and lead frugal lives. How would he react when he finds India’s political and governing classes, and business tycoons, given to vulgar display of power or pelf? Would he not die a hundred deaths seeing those who swear by his name and have even exploited it to create a dynasty, arrogantly and unapproachably throwing their weight about on the national stage?

Imagine him standing on the side of one of our roads when the President, the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister, or even a Minister, passes by in a two kilometre long motorcade with red lights blazing and sirens blaring, exposing their sovereign masters — the people — to hardship by making them stand for long periods and even blocking ambulances carrying emergency cases to hospitals? How will he, who lived like the poorest in the land, feel when he sees political and governing classes corner all the luxuries and leave the aam aadmi in the lurch — sans electricity, sans drinking water, sans security, sans polite dealings from public servants and sans honest and effective governance?

Any guesses?

(This article was published on November 25, 2012)
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