How much have you ever spent on your own birthday or the birth anniversary of someone very close to you? More importantly, if money was no object, how much would you be willing to spend?
The Indian government seems to have answered that question today: Rs 100 crore.
It was the last item Finance Minister Arun Jaitley mentioned before he moved on to tax reforms in Budget 2016.
"I have also allocated initial sums of Rs 100 crore each for celebrating the birth centenary of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay and the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh," Jaitley announced. He did not elaborate.
Make no mistake. Both personalities mentioned are already famous in their own right.
Guru Gobind Singh is the final temporal leader of Sikhism. His birth anniversary on January 16 is understandably a major occasion for every follower of the religion.
But let's face it, he is not a pan-Indian religious leader. And the Punjab government has already spent Rs 100 crore to observe the day. Which means that thanks to the generous addition by the government there is now going to be a whopping Rs 200 crore spent to commemorate the birth anniversary.
But while it is understandable that Punjab and even Sikh bodies would want to celebrate the occasion, does the Union government really need to be spending Rs 100 crore more on the same event? Does it plan to show the same level of generosity towards celebrating all festivals in the near future, whether of the majority or a minority? Or does it have more to do with an early state election next year?
Then there's the case of Deen Dayal Upadhyay, who apart from being an RSS ideologue is among the founding fathers of the BJP. His legacy may be spectacular, but the question you need to be asking yourself is: should the union government be celebrating this so lavishly? While the BJP might see the need to celebrate, lets not forget whose money is being spent for this.
Indians are no strangers to tax money being spent on random causes that are the brainchild of the government of the day. The Congress, during the UPA regime, spent crores on advertising the legacies of various Nehru-Gandhi family members. And there was the purely cosmetic Nirbhaya Fund just so that it could be made to seem like the government was responding to the protests seeking women's safety in the country.
Most important takeaway for me form this budget: need to find out who this Deen Dayal Upadhyay is.— Suo Motu (@suo_motu) February 29, 2016
Budgets denote how the government of the country will spend every rupee it borrows and gets from its citizenry, and when it spends on schemes that have no obvious public gain, one has to wonder why. Look at all the other things it is spending on. Boosting public education, insurance schemes for the poor, agriculture insurance, irrigation schemes and novel initiatives that could make the life of its citizenry much easier. And that's what the people of India want to see.
Admittedly Rs 200 crore is small change in a budget where thousands of crores that are being allocated to change and improve lives across the country. But the greater question is, why? Is there no rural school that needs Rs 200 crore to be upgraded? No growing urban centre that needs better roads ? No public hospital in a district headquarters that needs new equipment?
Let's face it, there are multiple public facilities that could benefit from that amount, as small as it can seem to a man handling thousands of crores. It's a pity the government that the Modi government would fall prey to the same failing that they criticised in the Congress.