Why I could have also become an Anna supporter
In 2000, that was when I started earning enough to save some, I bought a pension policy from LIC. It came for an annual premium of Rs 25,000 and promised to pay about Rs 20,000 every month after 25 years — that is starting 2024 when I would be 55 years and retiring.
I thought it was a steal of a deal. Because those days our monthly kitchen bill was around Rs 5,000. An average annual inflation rate of 6%, I estimated, would take it in 2024 to just about what the pension policy would yield.
Well, I am already spending a lot more now than what I had projected for 2024. Not only because prices have risen faster than expected, but also lifestyle aspirations have changed. From unpacked parmal rice that cost about Rs 10 a kilo at a neighbourhood kirana store, we have switched to branded basmati on the shelves of air-conditioned supermarkets that costs five times more. From a two-room apartment we have moved to a 4-BHK flat.
The Premier Padmini model of Fiat that I drove for years has since given way, first to a Tata Indica and then to a mid-size Sedan. And through all these years, I wasn’t complaining even though the gap between expenses projected for 2024 and the pension that LIC would pay me kept widening.
Because India had changed and you could dream big. You could aspire in a short span of time for all that your parents’ generation took a lifetime to do. You could dare gamble, because even if you failed on one count there was always another opportunity to explore.
But the leaders of new India were not doing enough to turn their people’s aspirations into reality. Even as India prospered, riding on a benign global economic environment, some cornered more benefits than the others. A cash-rich government could still tide over the discontent among the left-out by doling a slew of welfare measures. All that worked well until a crisis in the global financial system raised its ugly head, first in the US in 2008 and then in Europe. Back home, the downside of economic liberalisation became more and more glaring.
Persistent double-digit inflation in goods of daily consumption over the past three years has wiped out much of the gains that the economic boom of the past decade brought to millions of urban middle class. And an equal number of people who migrated from the countryside to cities and towns to escape poverty on the back of the “India shining” story face the threat of being pushed back to the marginalised ranks.
These are the people who have now chosen to join the swelling ranks of supporters of Anna Hazare. In the campaign against corruption, they have found a window to air their discontent over what they see as the failure of the ruling class to cater to aspirations of new India.
Like many of them, I would have a wished to join Anna’s cause. Because it’s a right cause, but it is neither at the root of the growing discontent that we see in new India nor a successful fight on this is enough to turn our aspirations into reality. Anna’s focus has stayed clear of these deeper issues. The character of his campaign is such that it will never question the fundamental flaws in the system that widens economic disparity and triggers discontent.
One could even go to extent of saying it may have helped the ruling class gloss over the real developmental challenges facing the country. Today, Manmohan Singh is a much-relieved man not only because Anna has ended his fast, but also the more intractable issues of inflation and rising unemployment have made way for corruption in the people’s midspace — at least for now.