Pages of history narrating episodes that featured the rulers at different times in some regions across the world in bad light also make people wonder if people are in the same mould in our times. Two such episodes stand out. In the first one, a great fire ravaged Rome for six days in July 64 AD destroying 70 per cent of the city and leaving half its population homeless. According to a well-known expression, Rome’s emperor at the time, the decadent and unpopular Nero “Fiddled while Rome burned.” The second episode is about Tughluq, the Sultan of Delhi during 14th century. He was perceived as an unintelligent ruler especially for some of his decisions during his reign, particularly the order on relocation of his capital from Delhi to Devagiri, renamed as Tuglaqabad. The second episode, according to some astute political analysts, bears a correct allusion to the present day political happenings. Keen followers of the related reports in the land’s dailies don’t need any elaboration on this point.
India is home to personalities who have excelled in many fields in the past, some of them dating back to several centuries. Vishnu Gupta, also known by the names Kautilya and Chanakya, a teacher, philosopher, economist, jurist and royal advisor during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya, who authored the ancient Indian political treatise Arthashastra is more quoted than being followed by present administration.
Marshalling the funds needed for public spending both by the country’s Central Government and its counterparts in the 36 States and Union Territories is giving sleepless nights to the top brass in administration, unable to rein in the fiscal deficit which is increasing steadily. The just introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, in its two channels namely, Central GST and State GST, which has received both bouquets and brickbats from different sections of the business and trade fraternity is still in the crucible of managing public funds. In this context, the disclosures of public funded projects with budgets of astronomical proportions are only antithesis of Kautilya’s guidelines.
People who have elected the law-makers have a right to know their performance score-card, particularly detailed account of public spending. There is cause for concern considering the no-holds-barred splurging of public funds on projects of low priority, such as the just announced facilities for water sports at Varuna Lake and such moves by the administration. One doesn’t miss Neros and Tughluqs of the distant past.