Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Knocking on god's door

So word is that our billionaire Member of Parliament Vijay Mallya, donated doors worth Rs60 lakh to a temple. With Kingfisher Airlines in serious trouble, employees have not been paid for months. Some of them finally began to strike, which led to flight cancellations. Instead of reassuring his employees, though, Mallya asked them to leave if they had no faith. His own faith, of course, is not in question, given that he is running to temples with such rich offerings.

I can’t help but wonder, what makes a man, perhaps one with a measure of self-respect, do this? 
Donating golden doors to the lord, but expecting the government — which is you and me — to help tide over a financial crisis? If he has Rs60 lakh to spare, the moral thing to do would be to pay his workers, or else, donate to the government. He could have created a welfare fund for his employees, so that those who face personal emergencies could borrow money. Or he could have donated to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. He could even have fed all the hungry people in Bangalore for a day. What made him spend on a door?
I suppose it comes from a certain conception of god. In Mallya’s conception of god, He prefers nice doors on one of His innumerable houses to a just society where people actually get paid on time. This god rewards pricey gifts, not a commitment to your own employees. But if you can only weigh yourself (and other people) against material possessions, then the only thing you will bring — even to the lord — is an expensive object.
If you are this sort of person, then you probably have very odd ideas about where wealth comes from, and what you owe people who help you get rich. The earth, its minerals, its capacity for heat, water, the trees, their fruit — all this existed before you were born, and in a nation, it technically belonged to all citizens equally. You were fortunate enough to inherit a larger chunk of these resources, and then you hired other citizens to work, so that you could harness even more resources. You took bank loans, which are enabled through millions of other people and their savings and investments. But if you are a decent sort, you try to acknowledge their very legitimate concerns about their future. You try not to sound like you were doing them a favour. You very definitely don’t take money that morally belongs to your workers, and offer it up to god as a personal gift.
Perhaps, Mallya should have offered his donation to the ruling party in his home state. The Karnataka government reportedly wanted to invest in a new form of drought relief — ordering pujas at about 35,000 temples to appease the rain gods. The money for this would have come from our taxes, if there had not been an immediate outcry.
Speaking of favours and temples, we certainly don’t seem to believe in the equality of all citizens, especially before the gods. It has taken us this long to stop the VIP ‘pass’ system at temples in states like Tamil Nadu. But the state still wants a list of ‘exceptionally treated’ persons, including IAS officers and judges, who can get special appointments with the gods. ‘Security concerns’ are being cited. Clearly, the administration doesn’t trust in god alone when it comes to personal safety. Perhaps they should look to their colleagues in Karnataka. As Mallya puts it, if you lack faith, leave.
First published here.

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