Imagine this scene unfolding in one of the cool rooms off the magnificent Central Hall of the Indian Parliament: a Member of Parliament punches 2-fingered into an imported laptop 486, plugs it -- fax modem and all -- into the telephone socket, and blasts off a missive to the mofussil town closest to his crumbly, inaccessible constituency in some forsaken backyard of the country. From there, a 'runner' postman picks up the piece of paper and canters off to the letter's destination, a good half a day over unfriendly terrain. Laptop or no, the message takes a day to go from MP to home. A direct trunk call would have taken no more than a couple of hours and would have saved the MP some precious paise.
But try talking this commonsense into the Indian government, which is part neo-Luddite, part besotted computer hacker: that a Porsche wasn't made for driving pell-mell over marshland in top gear. It's not only more hideously expensive but most of the drivers haven't got Porsche-sense and are bound to sink in the bog like a stone.
Which is why it makes only ridiculous sense to arm all of India's MPs -- many incoherently semi-literate -- with laptops, each costing Rs 1 lakh and over. Not for the elected representatives of the people -- 70 per cent of who are paralysed below the poverty line -- have the electronic status symbols been created, symbols that murmur "Own me!" with the same seductive coquettry as Maruti Zens.
The Central government's recent decision to gift laptops to all MPs will set the treasury back by over Rs 3 crore. Can political will and humane intellect -- or, if truth be said, the paucity of both -- be replaced with what is, in this context, a very expensive toy, a toy that has functions not even remotely Parliamentary? At best, it can work like a godown for the technicolour, unparliamentary language that MPs invent for purple jousts in the well of the House.
At worst, these laptops will only help to close-focus the yawning chasm between elected representatives and the people they claim to represent. To most of the electorate, laptops are about as familiar as Kentucky Fried Chicken, and have as much nutritional value. Among all the regular stupidities that the government is capable of, the most stupid is that of buying cake instead of bread, for those who can afford to pay but won't.
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