What’s with big, fat weddings?

What’s with big, fat weddings?

Politicians use weddings to show off their influence and dole out gifts to their constituency. No wonder they don’t speak a word against ostentation

G Janardhana Reddy, who served a jail term for illegal mining, hosted a lavish wedding for his daughter in 2016. Demonetisation had just been announced. While common people struggled to find cash to pay even for their daily needs, this politician and mining baron was putting up a spectacle with few parallels anywhere. News reports estimated he had spent about Rs 500 crore on the bash.

The spotlight is on now on B Sriramulu, minister for health in Yeddyurappa’s government, and a close aide of Janardhana Reddy.

Sriramulu is hosting a 11-day extravaganza for his daughter Rakshitha’s wedding, culminating at Palace Grounds. The couple ties the knot on March 5. Coming up next month is the wedding of H D Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil, and that promises to be another big, fat wedding.

Patronage politics

A senior economist, who requested not to be named for this story, says such weddings reflect a “system of patronage politics.”

“They are used as camouflage to give the people of the constituency gifts, and to dole out other benefits. This form of mobilisation also strengthens the idea of the family, which is a critical part of Indian politics,” he says.

He sees in it a larger trend of political parties collapsing, and families replacing them. “Jayalalitha didn’t have a family but she created a foster one and held her son’s wedding in a lavish way. It is not a show of wealth but a show of patronage,” he explains. He says people in public life often imagine they cannot host a private wedding. 

Political analyst Dr Sandeep Shastri says public figures measure how powerful or important they are by how many guests, and who, attend their children’s marriages. “This defines and decides the political barometer,” he says. In his view, society has lost sensitivity, and is no longer offended by such ostentatious spending.

“Such expenses were socially frowned upon and we as a society didn’t believe in flaunting of wealth, but now, society is quite in awe. The tragedy is the bride and groom become a pawn in a power game and are pushed to the foreground,” says Shastri.

It is not that all politicians put up a spectacle. Sowmya Reddy and Motamma are among those who went in for low-profile weddings. “These are some leaders who hosted weddings without causing any public inconvenience. They believe weddings are intensely personal,” he says.

West and India

The West sees weddings as an opportunity to socialise in opulent settings, but that is because people there don’t have get-togethers as frequently as we do, according to Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor of political science at Karnatak University, Dharwad.

“Marriages were originally private affairs but when wealth accumulates, people like to show off. This is a culture which we have borrowed from the West. The political class camouflages other expenditures in the name of marriage and tries to cover its social base,” explains Harish. If a politician spends Rs 15 crore on a wedding, some of the money is distributed in the form of silver plates to voters. “So you can’t question such things. It is a manipulation of power through various methods,” he reasons. The social impact of such displays can be terrible, he warns. In many cases, farmers commit suicide not because crops failed, but because they wanted to emulate the rich.

“They want to show off. They borrow money for marriages. We become victims of our own misplaced priorities,” he says. Laws against extravagant marriages existed, but in the post-Nehruvian era, they have become defunct. Nobody implements them, he says.

“Nehru used to tell people in the public domain why such extravagance is not right for a country like India. In their public speeches, leaders would ask people not to spend beyond a certain amount because less spending would help bring those below the poverty line to a certain standard of life. We don’t see that kind of talk anymore,” says Ramaswamy. 

Taxman’s perspective

A senior officer with the investigative wing of the income tax department recalls how a team had contacted the event manager of Janardhana Reddy’s daughter’s wedding.

“We looked at whether all the expenses were accounted for. Some amount was given in cash and the rest by cheque,” he says.

Such large weddings have 60 per cent dealings in cash, which means unaccounted money can be spent without any questions being asked.

Politicians from the Ballari area thrive by dealing in the grey market. “In Karnataka, 50 per cent of all iron ore sold is from unregistered dealers. They join politics to protect their businesses and their interests,” he adds.