Small change

Government's austerity measures underscore doubts about its seriousness.

The cosmetic austerity measures announced by the government are reminiscent of the Shakin' Stevens hit "Lipstick, Powder and Paint", particularly the enigmatic refrain of the rock number: "Is you is? Or is you ain't?" The economy is barely out of an existential crisis and we think that not creating new posts, not buying new cars and not trying to cadge free tickets will suffice to put it back on course. Following on from similar measures announced less than a year ago, the government appears to be suggesting, for the second time, that going through the motions of tightening your belt will produce a washboard profile. It's hard to stomach.

India respects austerities. Deeply so. In our lexicon, they are extravagant hardships undertaken in order to extract boons from the gods. A typical austerity might entail standing on a hilltop on one leg for famished aeons, oblivious to sun and rain, while birds build their nests in your hair. How have we fallen so far, when we think that austerity can be reduced to not being allowed to seminar in five-star comfort and having to fly "cattle class", as Shashi Tharoor had put it so suicidally?

A government official has said that no real savings are contemplated. Apparently, the objective is to build an abstemious culture. But this is no time to be sensitive and nuanced about small change. Dalal Street may have celebrated an advance Diwali on Wednesday but the government knows that it's been a close shave. Boldness is needed to pre-empt hair-raising haircuts that may lurk over the horizon. The government must be able to answer that ungrammatically existential question, "Is you is?" It must answer confidently: "We is! Is you?"

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