The outbreak of Chikungunya and Dengue in Delhi raised questions about the whereabouts of the Chief Minister and his cabinet. Information about the Aam Aadmi lawmakers in jail was known, as was CM Arvind Kejriwal’s visit to Bengaluru for a throat surgery.

But what came as a surprise was that when the mosquitos attacked the national capital with Chikungunya and Dengue , there was just one cabinet minister of the Delhi Government present. The Health Minister emerged after a while, to announce that the Chikungunya deaths were mere propaganda! The Deputy Chief Minister was abroad and there is no response to the query as to why he did not cut short his trip. But then he was on a visit to Finland with the specific mission to study the education system of Finland for “about two-three days”.

The internet does not really highlight any great feature of the education system in Finland.Of course the tourist spots in Finland are gorgeous and you can’t expect the Deputy CM to shut his eyes. This being an official trip, funding can’t be questioned either and the misuse of NGO Kabir’s funds is stale news anyway. And why Kabir again when it keeps good company with plenty of NGOs with the Supreme Court pointing out that of the 30,81,873 NGOs in India, only 2.9 lakh file returns.

There has been periodic media interest in political tourism – popularly termed ‘political junkets’. If details of all such junkets since Independence were to be collated and recorded, it would possible outnumber the volumes of a small library and throw light on the massive worldwide research that has been underataken, definitely putting to shame the DRDO, if not ISRO.

But then political tourism is hardly new. As part of this ongoing circus, a 15-member parliamentary delegation visited Japan for seven days, followed by a seven day trip to South Korea in the mid 1990s. The delegation members panned across political parties in power. This saved heartburn and the hot water saunas in South Korea anyway require you to strip completely down to the skin, matching with our cliché at home – ‘hamam mein sab nange hain’.

The most interesting part was that the official assignment of this delegation was ‘to check the use of Hindi’ in our missions at Tokyo and Seoul. Now this by no means was an easy task and perhaps required more than the 14 days allotted, in addition to the time required for travel to and fro from India, besides the discomfort of flying business class and bearing the misery of staying in top hotels.

But it was remarkable to witness the diligence and hard work of these poor souls who went out of their way and far beyond the task allotted to them. Having finished checking the use of Hindi in our missions in a jiffy, they went on to check whether Hindi was being used in tourists spots, malls and shopping areas, night spots, dining-wining-entertainment joints, travelling by hi-speed trains, opening well packed gifts to see whether the printed and handwritten notes were written in Hindi, even scrupulously scrutinizing dollar, yen and won notes to see whether the inscription on these had any similarity to Hindi. What they reported on return is not known, and whether their recommendations included that such visits should be regular and frequent, but they seemed quite satisfied on their return.

It also so happened that in mid 1990s, the Japanese wanted to establish a medical city at Manesar. This was also then reported in Indian media at that time. The Japanese wanted land and the proposal reportedly included the Japanese connecting Delhi with a highway and subway free of cost. So the concerned Chief Minister arrived in Tokyo to discuss the modalities.

Now the Japanese system permits six percent of what you may term gift, benefit, bribe – call it what you want. This is institutionalized. The Japanese side, however, was in for a surprise of their life when our CM said the figure should be 60% instead of 6%. The hosts practically fell off their chairs but it is their fault they had not done their homework. Had they done so, they would have known that the ‘shoonya’ (zero) was invented in India, and adding an odd zero is no big deal especially when it is directly related to a politicians own pocket.

So the deal did not come through. But the Japanese, known for their perseverance, decided to give it another try. So after a few months the CM saheb, landed up in Tokyo again. The Japanese then discovered that their perseverance was far below the zero’s allure for the CM. Of course the Chief Secretary with his bag full of money (tax payers, black, brown, yellow – you decide) was at the beck and call of the CMs wife splurging on jewellery and pearls on both occasions. Her parting shot was, “baaki shopping Hong Kong mein karenge”. Had the medical city in Manesar been established by the Japanese in 1990s, the development and infrastructure in adjoining areas including Gurgaon would have been a different story altogether.

But political tourism also has hybrid versions. For example the politician who had jammed Delhi with bullock carts in the mid 1990s was sent on government expense to Tokyo for a heart bypass surgery – perhaps the most expensive city to have such an operation.And this when he only headed a political party, and did not hold any government post.

This was a cross between political tourism and medical tourism. The “mango man” travelling in “cattle-class” in India continues to bear the burden, and the taxes keep rising. You may call this crony capitalism, but then who knows how the Dy CM of Delhi’s study of Finland’s education system will help the schools in Delhi? After all how do we know about the immense contribution of these junkets to nation building.

In any event, how does it matter whether they are bathing together in the ‘hamam’ at home or abroad? So, how poor a country are we?

(Lt General Katoch is a veteran of the Indian Army).