Our money’s worth

The steepest ever petrol hike goes beyond a simple question of balancing home budgets. It is symbolic of all that is wrong with our governance, says Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times.

India’s desperate housewives know a thing or two about austerity. We know how to stretch a rupee: adding potatoes to meat curry, saving leftovers for future meals, storing used textbooks and uniforms for younger children and even recycling gift wrapping paper.

We were brought up to be frugal. The first generation of post-Independence India, our parents had seen their parents struggle for the freedoms we now take for granted. We ourselves grew up in pre-liberalised India where goods were scarce and aspirations modest. And we learned to cope without complaint.

In any case, the increase in most prices, whether of movie tickets or groceries, creeps up insidiously, week by week, month after month, a few bucks at a time. Milk, for instance, seems to agitate no one even though the price per litre has doubled in four years. The cheapest green vegetable in the market today costs R20 a kilo. But there is no national protest.

In terms of its psychological impact, the one-time 11.5% hike in petrol prices has been devastating. The night before, long queues had formed at petrol pumps as if tanking up would save cars and two-wheelers from Armageddon. An NDTV petition asking the government to rollback prices got 5,000 signatures in four hours flat. And the Opposition as well as the Congress’s allies were quick to tap into the national rage, demanding a rollback and calling for demonstrations. more

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