I am a loner by choice. While being a loner has infinitely more advantages for people like me [who do not possess the skills required for successful social interaction], it has quite a few drawbacks too. One of the chief drawbacks is the lack of understanding that comes from direct contact. The resentment against the latest hike in the price of petrol in India is one such thing that transcends my understanding.
I have been reading [the chief source of my information] for quite some time about the rising number of private vehicles in India, and that too very costly cars including imported ones. For example, “Car sales in the country reached a new high in January despite rising food and fuel prices, higher sticker prices and costlier loans as a buoyant middle class ensured India remained one of the fastest-growing car markets in the world,” says the Economic Times dated 10 Feb 2011. The report goes on to say, “Domestic car sales grew 26% year-on-year to 1.84 lakh units in January, beating the previous best monthly sales of 1.83 lakh recorded in October, according to data released by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) on Wednesday.” Further on we read, “The Indian car market has been cruising at almost 30% growth rate month after month for almost two years now as rising disposable incomes, easy availability of loans, a robust economy and a slew of new cars drove Indians to buy vehicles.”
The demand for cars and other private vehicles is on the rise not just in the cities but also in the rural areas, according to SIAM.
I’m not justifying the latest petrol price hike. Like the patient who was told by his surgeon that the amputation would give him some pain for a few days and then he would get used to it (the pain or the amputation or both), I have got used to price hikes from the time the Sixth Pay Commission was implemented. Ever since I started earning my monthly income I have got used to price hikes that invariably follow Pay Commission implementations. The lesson I have learnt is: If you are a wage earner in a low profile profession, your economic status is vaulted by a low ceiling. The height of the ceiling is determined by the various kinds of traders including the landlord who owns your home.
Price hikes don’t surprise me, in short. What surprises me is the ire of the people who can spend a huge sum on a car but complain of the hike in the price of the fuel. In Kerala (where I was born and reared) there’s a proverb about a man who could buy an elephant but could not afford the mahout’s tool.
That, I think, is what the present economic ideology does to most of us. It enables and prods us on to buy a lot of things which become a burden to us in inconspicuous ways.
Perhaps, those ways are not so inconspicuous. It’s just that we don’t want to see them. [That’s another thing that I don’t understand about people.]
Pranab Mukherjee, India’s Finance Minister, said without mincing words that it was “the prerogative of the oil companies” to raise the price since oil has been deregulated. It is the prerogative of any company, any trader, to determine the price of his commodity in a deregulated economy. When the economy was deregulated and (consequently?) the living conditions improved we were happy. We were proud that India was becoming an economic superpower. Didn’t we know that many erstwhile economic superpowers with deregulated economies were crumbling under the weight of the deregulation? If we didn’t, it was our mistake. Ignorance is not a valid reason in the eyes of the law.
In short, if we want to live in a liberal economy enjoying whatever benefits it brings we should also be ready to pay the price for it in accordance with the rules of the game. Otherwise, we should change the policy. Go for a welfare economy, anyone?
Tailpiece: There’s a section of Indians which argues that the government oil companies are motivated to raise the price of petroleum products in order to help the private players in the sector who maintain international prices in their outlets. I don’t know how far that is true. But such moves are also part of the game of deregulation, I guess.