Some Bitter Truths

Arecent economic phenomenon that has largely gone unnoticed is a further round of rise in petroleum product prices. This rise has clearly hurt ordinary users of petrol and diesel, and contributed to inflation by raising the cost of transport of essential commodities. It should be recalled that when the slump in oil prices in the international market first showed up, the prices in India's domestic market did not go down. The reason is simple: the government did not allow such a fall. With the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), it was expected that prices of petroleum products would come down. But this did not happen, because they have been consciously kept out of the purview of the new tax regime.

The slump in oil prices enabled the government to claim credit for high growth without mentioning that this growth was largely due to the fact of India being traditionally a major importer of oil e.g. petroleum and petroleum products. But this fall in international prices did not come to the benefit of the people, because the burden of ordinary citizens in terms of costs of transport of men and materials did not go down. Now the government has allowed prices of petrol and diesel to go up, aggravating the plight of the poorer sections who are hurt most by inflation. It is common knowledge that a rise in the prices of petrol and diesel, by inflating transport costs, raises the prices of daily articles of consumption including cereals, pulses, vegetables, fish etc.

Given that the present government is firmly backed by the corporate groups, it is understandable that the revenues earned by the government by taking advantage of a situation of low international prices are going to help this class in various direct and indirect ways. On the other hand, the stark facts regarding education and health care, which suggest that India remains far behind countries, like the Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, China etc. In respect of health care or access to health care, India is behind even war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq. How the coming budget addresses these problems remains to be seen, but it is a foregone conclusion that the public exchequer is not likely to do anything that affects the interests of the large corporate establishments. It is amusing to note that there is still continuous propaganda that India's economic progress is a matter of envy for many countries including China. Only stupid and ignorant people can join, or be befouled by, this barrage of lies. India's backwardness in many respects is not something the Sangh Parivar will be pleased to highlight, but what they do highlight, very often falsely, still have some currency among the credulous. The Prime Minister made his pitch in Davos, convinced foreign investors to invest in India but it is Indian people rather than American and European investors that need to be convinced to invest in India.

Talks of growth are going on and the government claims credit for a high rate of growth. That this growth has been achieved largely by taking advantage of low oil prices in international market is conveniently concealed. Another aspect is that this growth has been achieved largely at the cost of ecological balance and the amount of ecological destruction that this growth process has imposed on the society does not figure in GDP estimation. The question of statistical jugglery regarding measurement of GDP may be shelved for the moment. But there remains the bigger question of a most dehumanising inequality and concentration of wealth in a few hands. In this respect, the people can expect very little from the coming budget, because whatever the pretensions of Modi and his comrades-in-arms, they are at present the most reliable political tools of these few and everybody can perceive that politics is the concentrated expression of economics. The budget may try to make a final attempt to cure the 'policy paralysis' of the earlier government and introduce some new drastic and harsh steps in favour of the corporates.

Inequality has reached an alarming stage, both nationally and globally. As per Oxfam report, of the top 1 percent, 122 new billionaires were created in the world last year. And most of them were in India and China. The inequality tallies for India are just as damning. India’s wealthy do not pay taxes. Nor do they bother about market hazards. Modi’s growth strategy has created a situation where the best case scenario is the creation of exploitative jobs in informal sector that will further crush the country’s poor. Surprisingly President R N Kovind in his Republic Day eve address to the nation forgot to address the plight of the underprivileged who are also citizens of this country. Instead he focused on how to protect institutions. It was not without reason. Perhaps the recent revolt by some court judges provoked him to ask people in so many words to maintain the status quo. Nor did he utter a word or two about growing intolerance of dissent at every level.

Without specifically citing the voluntary role played by the Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the President reportedly upheld the organisation’s commitment to ‘selfless service’ to society commending it as a model to emulate. What the hell RSS has created in certain parts of the country doesn't require much to elaborate. He came down heavily on vigilantism but RSS-affiliated vigilante groups have created a situation where fascism finds fertile ground. Then his observation on the sanctity of Constitution betrays his ignorance. The saffron regime is systematically destroying the constitution while replacing it bit by bit with obnoxious ideas of hindutva ideologues.


Vol. 50, No.31, Feb 4 - 10, 2017