Rising cost of living: Hungry and drugged
People are feeling the pinch of rising prices but they look dazed with an overdose of neo-religious fanaticism ‘like a patient etherised upon a table’
Earlier this week, Indians saw petrol, and diesel prices going up marking the 13th hike in the last 15 days. The latest hike took the overall increase since the ending of a four-and-half-month-long hiatus in the rate revision on account of the state elections to five states to Rs.9.20 per litre.
The question that bewilders many though is - why is the aam aadmi not protesting? Are people afraid? Are they indoctrinated? Or have people resigned themselves to the fate that this is how it is going to be?
Ironic in a sense because this very mehengai (price rise) has in the past brought down governments. In October 2012, the BJP, then in the opposition, came out on the streets with its leaders creating a scene on the streets on Delhi against a hike in prices of cooking gas and petrol/diesel.
It was in the days when prices of crude oil were soaring yet there was no daily hike in retail prices. The government was providing domestic LPG cylinders at highly subsidised rates, the central taxes on the fuel were low and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government absorbed a large part of the rising crude costs to give relief to the consumers.
Sample this: In April 2007, the price of crude was $65 per barrel. The retail price of the petrol was Rs. 42 a litre and that of diesel was Rs. 30 a litre in Delhi. In March 2021, the rate of crude oil was $64 per barrel. The retail price of petrol was Rs. 91 a litre and and that of diesel Rs. 81 per litre.
Of course, the retail petrol and diesel prices have now breached the Rs.100 a litre mark, with greater part of the cost being the various taxes and cess. Clearly, the Modi government is fleecing its own people.
Rajesh Sonar a trader based in Mumbai said, "I am small shopkeeper and in past two years due to Covid lockdown, hardly have had any business. I have three children and inflation is going up. Within one year cost of LPG has increased by Rs 150 and we need to buy it. Last year it was Rs. 800, now it has gone upto Rs.949. I have raised my voice in our association, which is largely occupied by the BJP supporters. They claim it's uncontrollable."
He said they can't protest like others [for fear of repercussions]. “We have to manage our needs and going in any protest-dharna won't solve our issues. People like us have no choice but to silently bear the brunt,” he added.
As a former Congress spokesman puts it aptly, “There is a saying in English- ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. Mr. Modi’s government is robbing Peter to pay Peter. They are taking Rs 100 from us, the common man, and giving Rs. 10 back and claiming ‘Listen, I am so charitable. I am giving you 10 rupees, this is samaj kalyan I am doing for you, so vote for me.”
In 2022 though, outrage if any is not visible. Arguments that people are suffering have in fact been relegated to social media. Some of those arguments making rounds have gone to the extent of suggesting that one wonders if rising prices are inevitable, unavoidable, and are actually in the national interest.
Many people believe that Modi has carefully cultivated his ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ image and that image is still intact despite a clear slide in country’s economic growth and several unfulfilled promises during eight years of Modi’s rule.
A Kolhapur-based political researcher and academician feels that the host of religious institutions/organisations that have sprung up in the country are also behind building a certain kind of perception about the prime minister. “Real religion is absent today. But what we see today is that politicians opposed to the BJP are being seen as anti-religion and those speaking of secularism are being seen as anti-Hindu,” he says.
However, well-known Indian agro-economist Shrinivas Khandewale feels that today this image of the Prime Minister is being forcefully created to keep the election slogan of ‘Modi Hai Toh Mumkin Hai’ alive for their own benefit.
“People still think that even now it is possible that Modi might be able to work a miracle. There was a lady who during the recent UP polls came out and said that ‘humne unka namak khaya hai’, pointing to the free wheat that was supplied through government ration.
“This is a typical thought in the minds of the poor, who do not know that the PDS warehouses were overflowing with grains and the wheat was coming through taxpayers’ money. They genuinely think it is possible because of prime minister Modi alone,” he says.
Unfortunately, the opposition has been unable to defeat this narrative and convince the people of the lies and exaggerations.
On the question of why people are not protesting, Khandewale says that false bubbles of prosperity are being created through lectures, speeches and other propaganda.
On the one hand, a rosy picture of India shining globally with a strong leader at helm is being projected, on the other the Hindutva footsoldiers and sympathisers are kept engaged through artificially created constroversies like hijab, halal meat, love-jihad etc. TV news channels, of course, amplify this propaganda to the hilt.
Dr. Sudhir Gavhane, former vice-chancellor of YCMOU and MGM University, Aurangabad observes that what is happening basically is that we don’t have grassroots opinion leaders and organisers in place even within opposition political parties. They are not organising campaigns on a large scale.
“For a vibrant democracy, public participation in democratic processes is very important. The silence we see now is a result of the failure of the opinion-makers, the failure of the media, failure of the opposition leaders and their grassroot workers,” Dr. Gavhane insists.
Khandewale feels that during Covid, people in rural areas being related to each other, helped each other in difficulties, and therefore the situation did not explode though it was still quite bad.
At present, when it comes to why people are not revolting against the situation, it is because they are absolutely in search of bread, and protesting is a luxuryfor them.
Unless this lethargy is overcome and artificially built narratives challenged, prices will continue to hit the roof, people will continue to be more occupied in putting their bread and butter together.
(With inputs from Santoshee G. Mishra)
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)