Ranjona Banerji: It's hypocrisy that's taxing the nation

Why is that some Indians are offended because JNU is tax-funded, but it’s okay for us to bail out fat cats who don’t pay back loans?

The chattering classes are very upset that students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University study on taxpayers’ money. This has offended the drawing rooms of India very deeply. What? These Marxist Leninist Stalinist Pinko Commies are paid for by me?! How dare! Single malt moistened saliva is being spat around canapés in disgust. And poor Vijay Mallya, by the way. What bad luck.

The Jawaharlal Nehru University controversy gathered further fuel when people objected to the fact that the university is funded by taxes. Pic/PTI
The Jawaharlal Nehru University controversy gathered further fuel when people objected to the fact that the university is funded by taxes. Pic/PTI

I exempt from this argument all those rich people who have paid millions of rupees for their children to study at foreign universities. Poor rich parents and poor rich children. A few years ago, some rich western nations would offer scholarships to poor children even of rich-by-Indian-standards parents from poor nations, but not any more. And some universities in the Big Bad Foreign offer first grade free or highly subsidised university education to its own citizens while waiting like big fat spiders for rich people and their rich children from other countries.

So how does it help us in India when the government subsidises higher education? Is Jawaharlal Nehru University — the last bastion of everything evil for a drawing room party regular — the only beneficiary? What about the Indian Institutes of Engineering and Management? They also get government grants. What about government medical colleges? What about most major universities. Do we approve of those getting taxpayers’ money?

For the chattering classes, often any money spent on the less privileged is a waste. The less privileged are a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing slackers and can you imagine my maid asked for a R100 raise and please pass me that caviar niblet. I do love good caviar, not that cheapie salmon roe nonsense.

It’s not just the hypocrisy that’s nauseating. It’s also the self-righteous nonsense that goes along with it. Add to that the assumption that anyone who does not study something that will make them a successful carpenter or a vice-president for chewing gum, is wasting their time and our money. No society can survive or ever has survived by being completely homogenous. Even in our idiotic times, we would not manage with only soldiers and farmers for all that we use them to puff out our little pigeon chests of false patriotism. And we do grudge every little bit of our taxpayers’ money that goes to farmers. Soldiers are lucky because they are currently in fashion.

Take a good look around you at how the rest of our tax money is spent — all the money that doesn’t go to educating Marxists at JNU, that is. Do our roads work with smooth surfaces that last even six months? We pay for those. Do our sewage systems work to our satisfaction? We pay for those. Do our public sector banks work or do they give away too many loans to fat cats who don’t pay back because we pay for those too. O ya, poor Vijay Mallya. Nice yacht, though.

But let’s have a discussion on public health and public education, and out come all the knives. It’s all a waste of money, whether it is spent at the top or the bottom of the health and education columns. India has the worst infant and maternal mortality figures in the world. Should we spend more taxpayers’ money to fix that or less? Right now we spend as little as we possibly can. But you do know that the money goes to poor people, right? That Rs 100 raise that your maid wants, remember. Damn.

And here we come full circle to education. Primary and secondary education is horrendous because we are not spending enough taxpayers’ money on it. But discuss spending more and we’re back where we started: JNU is full of evil students.

Of course, what we must never ever discuss is rich people who fudge their taxes, people who want tax holidays to start their new business ventures and people who don’t pay taxes at all although they earn more than most. And I am also wrong here. Because even if you do cheat at Income Tax, every little throat lozenge, every cake of soap, every strip of medicine you buy is taxed. So at the end of the day, the students at JNU are subsidising their own education.

Put that in your patriotic pipe and smoke it. Pay your taxes on the way out.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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