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Sugar & Salt

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Inflation is like high blood pressure and diabetes acting detrimentally on the nation’s health! It is caused by a set of ‘unhealthy’ habits that impact on every organ of the economy. It is not just the result of a mismatch between demand and supply. Poor governance and lack of regulation lie at the heart of the malaise. Basically, nobody is in charge and the gremlins are free to run riot.

Even though India’s Prime Minister was supposed to be a leading economist – backed up by the acumen in many ways of P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee, under the guidance of the expert packed NAC and supported by the Planning Commission – his two terms in office have been remarkable singularly for uncontrolled spending on unproductive and corruption ridden programmes, while investment on growth related sectors of the economy was severely constrained. The price of investible funds went up manifold, even as the bazaars witnessed ever increasing amounts of the rupee chasing fewer and sub-standard goods as well as services. The premium on quality has increased to the point where it has become unaffordable to all but the well-off sections. No wonder, then, that there is anger among the people at having to pay higher taxes, increased tariffs, tolls and surcharges, even as the quality of public infrastructure and services declines abysmally – the claims by government on stand-alone projects like the Delhi Metro and Mumbai Monorail notwithstanding. In fact, the election related advertising by Government and the Congress depicting a utopia that doesn’t exist anywhere is just salt on the people’s wounds.

Why has not government been able to see the derailment of the economy even though the message has been clear not just on the national horizon, but globally, too? Mostly because veils of corruption had been drawn over everybody’s eyes! Worse than a rapacious government is one that allows rapacity by others! In the first case, at least the choices are made by the government, resulting in at least some proper investment decisions being made. In the second case, however, it is the government that receives the crumbs while the nation’s wealth is robbed. Nothing is more farcical and fanciful than government claiming that its flagship MNREGA has been a game-changer in rural areas. Reports are received almost on a daily basis on how the scheme has proved a bonanza for corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and traders.

The reason why inflation and the attendant poverty have been on the increase is because the ruling class has not felt the repercussions – it is not hurting. As in the case of Uttarakhand’s legislators, who most unfeelingly gave themselves a three-fold pay hike in the immediate aftermath of the devastation in the hills, the people’s frustrations are not rebounding on them. They have gone beyond being held accountable. Come election time, they manage to change the debate to caste and community. The people are frightened with the prospects of ‘merchants of death’ and ‘harvesters of poison’ coming to power. The average voter is kept from seeing the larger picture and the reasons for his suffering, by the more immediate need to feel more powerful than his neighbour simply on the basis of belonging to the same caste or community as the Chief Minister, or local legislator. The nation’s future is bartered away on the basis of such intangible, insubstantial sentiments!

Inflation and corruption remain the primary enemies, regardless of what anybody says. Whoever can provide a way out of this problem should be heard. Such a person would talk of discipline, hard work, sacrifice and merit – not offer more subsidised sweets and salts to satisfy the cravings of an unregulated lifestyle!

 

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