Austerity is the buzzword in Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s new term. Ever since her return to power, Raje has been consciously shedding her royal mantle for a common person’s image. Having issued strict instructions to cut down spending of public money on superfluous feasts and security for politicians, she has walked over former chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s Gandhian image.
In her first week in office, she refused traffic privileges, choosing instead to stop at all traffic lights so that the common man need not lose time waiting for the VIP motorcade to pass. She then instructed the traffic police to reduce the size of her cavalcade, dropping additional escort vehicles.
Even before Arvind Kejriwal decided to let go of the Delhi chief minister’s plush five-bedroom house, Raje announced she would continue living in her previously allotted government quarter at 13 Civil Lines and turn the official chief minister’s residence into a state guesthouse. While Kejriwal’s aides call it the AAP effect, Raje’s team would have you believe it is the other way round. The BJP has retorted it is Kejriwal who has taken a page out of Raje’s book.
Having set the example, Raje expects her colleagues to follow suit. On the first day of the collectors and police superintendents’ conference, she asked officials not to hold meetings and programmes in five-star hotels, or organise feasts at government events. Taking the cue, her cabinet colleagues have pledged not to use police escort during their visits to the districts and to limit their convoys. Chief secretary Rajiv Mehrishi requested officials not to keep two cars, use government vehicles for personal use, or employ guards and domestic help at their homes at government cost.
The same Raje was once known for her flamboyant ways and royal charm. What the austerity drive hasn’t done, however, is cramp her style. She held a grand swearing-in ceremony with over one lakh spectators. The jansunwais (public meetings) at her residence are durbar-like gatherings, with petitioners scrambling to reach her with their complaints. Now, she does not disappoint them any longer unlike during her previous stint, when she was slammed for her inaccessibility.
Evidently, Raje has learnt from earlier mistakes and is risking nothing ahead of the parliamentary elections.
The ministry recently evolved a financial model for acquiring items for which their current owners seek payment. It has, however, been going slow on procurement, primarily because of issues of storage and curating. There are also concerns about how to authenticate claims — how to establish, for example, that a camera that is said to have been used by a certain filmmaker actually was.
Included in the long-term plans are periodic displays of notable private collections and exchange shows with similar European museums.
Sweta is a Principal Correspondent based in Jaipur