A reason why the INC continues to perform poorly in elections is its outdated ideas. By questioning the ruling BJP why it has entrusted a private entity, Dalmia Bharat, with the task of maintaining Red Fort, Rahul Gandhi’s party has harked back to the Jawaharlal Nehru-Indira Gandhi era of economics, which is singularly responsible for keeping a large section of the Indian population poor for so many decades following Independence. The tangible and living heritage of a nation are no doubt the responsibility of the state. That does not mean, however, that every act of the state must be realised through actions of bureaucrats. Especially in a country with poverty-stricken millions, spending taxpayers’ money on ancient and mediaeval monuments is luxury whereas exhausting it on fine, performing and commercial arts smacks of rank feudalism. That is not to say that either domain must be neglected; they should certainly be taken care of. The best way to arrange for the funds for the purpose has to be sourcing it to private companies or individuals that feel a social obligation and can spare money for it. This is the only way to ensure that the taxes we pay fund essentials like schools, colleges, roads, bridges, power supply, water supply, etc rather than objects that (a) the poor cannot relate to, (b) are not used every day, and (c) are not essential for living. Further, how shabby any public facility turns once a government monopoly takes it over is well known. The state cannot easily terminate a worker — from a peon to a supervisor — for non-performance, incompetence or corruption, even as tourists might be served contaminated food and water, and made to walk on filth strewn all over the place.

Of course, there are several European countries where the state maintains monuments, funds schools, runs hospitals, finances research in universities, etc without running the exchequer dry. But that is because those nations witnessed the Industrial Revolution when Asians like us were languishing in colonies. Their imperialism also included a plundering of our resources, finally leaving them with a pool of wealth by the middle of the last century — despite the two World Wars — with which they had to serve populations that were tiny fractions of that of India or China. Ergo, a sustainable cycle of taxes and services could be established in the West. It would be a cruel joke to ask a starving Indian whether he could forgo his PDS/DBT entitlements because Red Fort’s pathways and bollards must be lit up and landscaped, a 1,000-square-foot visitor facility centre ought to be built, a 3-D projection mapping of the interiors and exteriors is needed, battery-operated vehicles and charging stations for such vehicles are desired and a thematic cafeteria would come up on top of that.

As such, the Narendra Modi government has, in some domains, been terribly slow in acts of reformation and, in others, it is plain scared of the term “privatisation” (or, arguably, it does not know how to sell the idea). To heckle an already inhibited government does not serve any national interest. Other than commercialising Railways’ add-on properties, decision to sell Air India and ITDC hotels, focussing on the availability of electricity rather than a mere increase in power generation, etc, the policy to let 31 private entities maintain historical monuments is a step in the right direction.