On top of galloping inflation, with even food prices soaring to unprecedented height, the government thought it fit to hike the already high prices of petrol and diesel. This was done before the assembly elections in several states. Why is the government deliberately committing hara-kiri? Or are there elements in the ruling party that wish to destroy their own government? Or are there instead corrupt elements raking in maximum loot while in power in the belief that they will never be re-elected? The people cannot be blamed for indulging in such wild speculation. The energy price hike just does not make political sense.
In terms of petrol prices related to purchasing power India has about the highest retail price in the whole world. Among the major powers China has the highest petrol price. India now boasts of more than two and a half times the petrol price in China! Government officials and apologists defend the hike by pointing out economic compulsions that cry for more revenue. Are there no other avenues for augmenting revenue in an administration reeking with conspicuous consumption and shameless waste? Are there no possibilities of extracting revenue from the very rich by making them tighten their belts? This isn’t socialist ranting. It is a wake up call to the government to recognize ground realities.
Even the middle class is complaining about unacceptable prices that curtail its daily bread. It just can’t make two ends meet. So the middle class complains. What about the very poor, especially the rural poor who lack even the luxury of getting their complaints heard. What might they do? Politics is about empathy. Do our worthy ministers ever try to sense what the poor must be feeling? Do even mainstream media attempt to empathize with their condition? One would like to recall a recent incident in Maharashtra to highlight the desperate state of the poor.
Recently the Maharashtra government broke from tradition to allow appointments to Class IV posts. Its forest department recently announced 1,175 guard jobs open for recruitment in the Maharashtra forest department. More than hundred times the number of applicants responded! The physical criteria for the job were a 25-km run for men and a 14-km run for women. Of the 9,500 aspirants who applied for just 85 posts many collapsed during the run. Eight were hospitalized. One 23-year old died in the attempt. Incidents of candidates collapsing were reported from other cities too. What level of desperation must have impelled these applicants to literally run themselves to the ground, even to death, just to get a job?
These are not a class of people whose complaints would be heard by authority. Nor do they have the means to organize violent protest. Ah, but the Maoists do! Home Minister Chidambaram has described the Maoists as the biggest security threat to the nation. Given official insensitivity should the rise of Maoism surprise? What is the government doing about that? Improving the police force is not enough. The government must start empathizing with the poor. For a start it must begin recognizing what the price rise really means in the daily life of a poor family. Otherwise the government will not only commit suicide. It will imperil the future of democracy in India.