The Big Squeeze: People asked to take a hike

9 Nov

Oil beyond grasp, salvation within reach
Graphics: Avijit Das

Petrol price has risen by INR 20. 25 ( 30 % ) since June 2010. Most economists might attribute this to rupee depreciation. This is, at best, a factual view, which is by its very nature limited.  When thinking out of the box is de rigueur; only a chump would think to be in it.  As my editor-in-chief  never tires of saying, “Imagine! Innovate!”  Dump the chumpy economists and embrace the eternal optimists,who can see beyond the burning inflation, turning smoke into silver lining.

Take Jaipal Reddy, the big daddy of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, GoI, who proved his chops by deftly handling  the Group of Ministers in charge of India’s hosting of the  Common Wealth Games.  Talking to the head-hitting interviewer of Headlines Today, Rahul Kanwal, Reddy tut tutted Kanwal’s narrow focus on this being “the fifth time the petrol price was hiked in 2011”.  He patiently explained to a perturbed Kanwal sweating over his conveyance expense, “Why ask for reasons behind oil inflation? These are beyond our control. What is within our power is how we react to it.”  Market has handed petrol consumers a raw deal but this is a blessing in disguise. “Stop being a greedy guzzler! Save mother earth! This is the time for sustainable consumption. If petrol price is high, stop driving. Walk, instead.”  Market might go off a materialistic deep end, but we are sure to find spiritual salvation.

Reddy is seconded by his counterpart in the Ministry of Finance, Pranab Mukherjee or PM as he is affectionately thought of, who blithely said, “The government has nothing to do with oil price rise. The companies have done this. They have to do this for their survival.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh piped in to seal the government’s comprehensive response to the oily situation only to be stopped short by the fire-breathing daughter of the East. With her TMC being the heart and soul of the UPA government, how could Mamata di not join the party?  Afterall, there can be no fire without fuel.

“I need oil. The common man needs cheap oil. I am common man. I like things cheap. Reduce oil price,” rattled off the People’s Princess. The rattled government fearing the loss of its heart, sent PM  to pour oil over troubled waters.  The nifty pol took the cheap shot of Didi literally and brought the glow back to her face by a 25 paise rollback on petrol price.

Party poopers might point out that this in no way served those affected. If Didi had been serious, she would have reduced the state’s tax on petrol, which was 15.3 % compared to the Centre’s 14.8 %.  They might reason the Centre shared its oil money with the states and that Bengal got 7% of it. But they fail to grasp that unlike them, Didi does not just put stock on economics, but emotions. Filled with righteous anger over the price rise, when some of her party men turned a bus ablaze and were brave enough to do so on a day the police were awake, she stormed the Bhowanipore police station, summoned the police commissioner and got her high-spirited with “the might of right on our side” boys released. Sceptics might scorn her antics and call her 25 paise deal a pre-staged bluff or at best, a sellout. But for Didi, it was not about conning or capitulation, but making capital.  In India, every paise counts. Perception just counts more.

In the meantime, the ever-opposing Opposition became confused and banged on about black money before realising that the people’s beef was with inflation.  Then again, one cannot blame them for missing the bus, as their leader Advani had retrofitted it into a rath, that rode on the “wishful thinking” of a TMC back-out rather than an oil alternative.

Then there are those soulless but efficient bureaucrats who talk of getting more taxes from oil companies as rupee depreciates. Costs would anyway be offloaded on to the consumers. Forget Centre-state squabble! Officials from both sides perk up as one when they hear the three words “ad valorem tax”. It rocks!

For those shaken, relax : Petrol price rise mostly affects the car and scooter owners, not the aam junta.  Pols are happy. Prices will not be slashed. Corps are happy.  Bureaucrats get the government to foot their vehicle bills. They are happy. Middle class turns poor and realizes the joy of simple living. Mother earth gets a life extension. She is happy. A win-win situation all around.

But for those really  hard to please, petrol-powered nouveau poor, you can always fall back on Reddy’s sage advice:  Go, take a hike.


3 Responses to “The Big Squeeze: People asked to take a hike”

  1. Sandeep Mahapatra November 10, 2011 at 6:15 am #

    Really good one, If you are left with nothing, then ‘you can put your walking shoes’ on.
    Waiting for Manmohan Singh to show some anguish and for Rahul Gandhi to say, “I told you so, now Kalawati needs her nuke power, since petrol’s so costly today”


  2. Lopamudra Bandyopadhyay November 11, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Very good post. Good to know that you blog. Will drop by again 🙂


  3. Sanjukta Bhattacharya November 12, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    Great! Bring it out of the internet into the print press so that all may smile at your witty take!


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