By Vijay Darda | 23-06-2014
In the one month that Modi Sarkar has been in power, the common consumer has been hit hard. There has been no let-up on the price front. Food and vegetable prices have continuously risen, and on top of it there has been hefty hike in rail fares-both passenger as well freight, with the Mumbai suburban traveller being hit the hardest. As if this was not all, prime minister Narendra Modi has warned that there would be a need to swallow some bitter pills as the Congress has left the government coffers empty. So with the general budget a few days away, we should be prepared for more shocks.
Experts would tell us that nothing of this is unexpected because the economy is in a bad shape, and there are no quick fixes for controlling price hikes. But then this is what we would hear when there was a UPA regime in charge, and the BJP leaders would rap the government for failing to hold the price line. This would be the familiar argument from Arun Jaitley in his capacity as the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha when he would attack the then finance minister P Chidambaram. However, now there is a role reversal and Jaitley is the new finance minister. The measures that he announced to check the price rise like action against hoarders, and the monitoring of the commodities are all very similar to ones that used to be announced by Chidambaram. The fact that these measures did precious little to check inflation, and this ultimately turned out to be one of the main reasons for the defeat of the Congress party in the recent elections is well known to the masses but more importantly has been acknowledged by Chidambaram as well. People are simply unforgiving when it comes to the issue of rising prices.
However, we all know that prices unlike everything else seldom follow the law of gravity. For instance the rail tariffs, once hiked they stay there, and seldom come down. Even if there is a reduction it is always marginal compared to the hike, so that the higher level is retained to a greater extent. Of course, when it comes to food items, there are seasonal variations but in their case as well the upper limits once established in the market also tend to become the norm.
It is accepted that in any economy, especially one that is integrated with the global forces there will always be internal and external factors that determine its health. So, there will be ups and downs and consequently there will be alternating periods of pleasures and pains. If the government were to leave the people, more so in a country like India where poverty remains a major concern and the political masters keep promising from roof tops that they would eliminate poverty, at the mercy of market forces then there would be no end to their woes. The UPA government’s failure to insulate the people from these shocks was one of the reasons of its defeat. The UPA government’s acts of omission and commission created a deep impression among the people that here was a dispensation that did not care about their concerns.
Rightly or wrongly, the people always believe in the enormous powers of a government. The politicians enhance this myth with their campaign rhetoric when they are seeking power. We have seen Narendra Modi promising to achieve in 60 months, all that which could not be done by the Congress in sixty years. In the post campaign period, he has described his victory as a triumph of hope and this analysis buttresses the people’s belief in the extraordinary powers of a government. “Sarkar chahe to sab kuch kar sakti hai’ (if the government wants then it can do everything”) is the sentiment that dominates the people’s mindset. Besides, by his own yardstick, Modi has laid down a benchmark to achieve in one month all the things that a government normally takes a full year to do.
So, if a government merely behaves like a private accounting company balancing books and taking decisions as per logic of these accounts, without leveraging its sovereign power in terms of innovation and effective utilisation of the resources at its command then it fails to strike the right combination in terms of running a cost effective system and serving the people’s interests. Most unpopular governments are guilty of this behaviour. It is not that the people are irrational and unwilling to swallow a bitter pill. They all know that there is a simple formula-no pain, no gain. To achieve anything you have to work hard and be ready to pay the price. They are always ready to work hard and willing to pay the price, only if the gains are assured. It is the absence of this assurance, and the failure of the government to deliver on its promise of the expected gains that can be mildly called ‘cheating’ in this game.
A change of government in a democracy should mean the advent of a new alternative strategy of governance. Everyone appreciates the need for continuity in governance, but then if this means following the same track then the people would legitimately question that rationale for change. If the Modi-led BJP government finds itself compelled to enforce the same rail fare hike that was suggested by the former railways minister Mallikarjun Kharge and approved by then prime minister Manmohan Singh, then the people have a right to ask a question as to what is then the contribution of the new railways minister Sadanand Gowda, prime minister Narendra Modi and the finance minister Arun Jaitley? The argument that a decision was taken by the previous government is sufficient only to silence the criticism from the Congress, but the point is does it serve the needs of good governance? If this approach is to be followed then we would have a situation, where the issues would remain same, only the players would have changed sides. The BJP would become the defender and the Congress would play the role of attacker. Then nothing would have changed in its essence.