Mata Harry writes from New Delhi: The Indian economy is tanking, the rupee is in free fall, the stock market plunges every day and inflation is soaring. Not to mention that the budget deficit has spiralled out of control. The outside world is oblivious to all this, probably because the government is putting on a brave face and telling everyone that things are going very well. But in reality, the situation is getting pretty desperate.
And in an attempt to prop up the country’s finances the government announced a set of austerity measures a few days ago. The proposals were put through by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and include a ban on the purchase of new vehicles for officials, restrictions on holding seminars and conferences at five star hotels for civil servants and a limit on their overseas travel. Also, it has been decided to cut down on the number of security guards who provide protection for some of the officials who feel that they may be in danger of being targeted by nasty people.
What the government has not revealed was that MPs and civil servants complained bitterly about the new austerity measures, sending copies of their letters and texts and emails to the recently opened office of Stirring Trouble in New Delhi.
One member of Parliament, who wished to remain anonymous, complained: ‘The Finance Minister has ordered us to cut down on the number of security personnel who provide us with protection. This is a disgrace. I insist on having guards to protect me round the clock because I know things that most people don’t.’
Another disgruntled MP wrote: ‘If we’re expected to travel economy class or cattle class instead of business club class, I demand an entourage of at least 20 security personnel. I want to keep all those foul smelling riff raff travellers at bay. Imagine, they could be crawling all over me stealing my bank account details. You can’t trust the commoners these days.’
A disgruntled government official revealed other secret measures of the Finance Minister that were not included in his public announcement. For example, in the parliament’s cafeteria, where meals are served at absurdly subsidised prices, individual serving portions for MPs will be reduced. Chapatis (Indian bread) will be henceforth cut into quarters and bread slices will be smaller in size. The number of dishes served would be reduced from 20 to 2. Lawmakers accustomed to drinking gallons of soft drinks will now be limited to a small can. Members of parliament dissatisfied with these expenditure cuts are advised to starve or bring in their own food.
Most observers agree that food rationing in the cafeteria will deter voracious gluttons from visiting parliament altogether. A spokesman from AMS, or Austerity Measuring Studies, confided to Stirring Trouble: ‘Some of our amply endowed politicians would benefit from losing a few kilos. All they do is relax in parliament.’
Since electricity bills in parliament had spiralled out of control the Finance Minister also recommends that air conditioning be switched off during the entire summer session and that legislators cool themselves with hand held fans. The minister also proposed a super-secret scheme called FART, or Foul Air Recycled Transformer, to convert the stale air emanating from within the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, into electricity. This programme may be put on hold though as experts pointed out that the cost of installing the windbags’ gas conversion plant would be higher than $20 million.
Mr Mukherjee insisted that such austerity measures would eventually pay off. When it was pointed out that the fiscal deficit ran into billions, while these measures would reduce expenses by a few thousand, he flew into a rage and responded with his boilerplate parliamentary response to tough questions: ‘Shut it!’