Friday, September 17, 2010


The pink papers have been going ga ga over the spanking new Wholesale Price Index (WPI). First, the new index shows that the rate of inflation is 8.5% while the old index would have it at about 9.5%. Conjure and juggle numbers and voila, you have taken care of the aam aadmi! Second, the new index (admittedly) better reflects the changing structure of the Indian economy where citizens now consume a larger basket of products and services. More than 220 new product and service categories have been added to make the index more representative. That’s compelling logic no doubt.

But take a quick look at the kind of new product and service categories added and you will immediately realize how this government – thanks to a hopelessly ineffective opposition and a virtually supine and servile media – is getting away by fooling all the people almost all the time. Some of the new products that are part of this ‘more representative’ index are beer (a weight of 0.155), ice cream, mineral water (I am sure distressed farmers rush off to buy a bottle of Bisleri along with pesticides when they see suicide as the only option), blended liquor, gold (a weight of 0.364), computers, washing machines and refrigerators (a weight of 0.194). How many of the 500 odd million Indians who live in abject and degrading poverty drink beer & mineral water and go to swanky malls to buy computers and refrigerators?

Sure, some might argue that the presence of 500 million poor Indians does not mean that we don’t need a ‘better’ and ‘bigger’ WPI. After all, the consuming classes too are Indian citizens. Fair enough. But how about an honest attempt to create a new consumer price index that reflects the consumption patterns of the really poor and of families hovering on the edges of poverty? Of course, we have consumer price indices of various kinds – for industrial workers and even for agricultural workers. But when was the last time you heard about this government spending time, money and energy on committees to upgrade those indices? The point is simple: for the really poor, more than 80% of income is spent on food. And with rampaging food inflation, you can well imagine their plight. Nobody talks about it anymore because the vocal middle class which also consumes the media has been virtually insulated against inflation because of a rapid rise in family incomes – both in the private and the government sector. And yet, imagine the hungama that is created when the price of LPG cylinders is raised by a relatively meager amount. Really, this is unparalleled hypocrisy for a society that claims to be democratic and a government that claims to think mainly of the aam aadmi.

Food-grains rotting while the poor are starving? This government ticks off the Supreme Court for interfering in policy matters. Vocal and politically powerful groups demand more reservations? Give it to them: most of them will not go to a college anyway. The poor dying of malaria and tuberculosis by the tens of thousands and their families going bankrupt due to medical expenses? Give more ‘subsidised’ land for corporate hospitals.

By the way, the new index also has an entry called ‘rose’. Wonder what Jawaharlal Nehru would have thought of that.


Friday, September 3, 2010


Just imagine the kind of mind-boggling multi-tasking he is doing. Here you have the Supreme Court of India that loudly and publicly berates him for allegedly trying to ‘spin’ the orders passed by the Court regarding food for starving Indians. Lest you think, this Supreme Court ‘flipper’ will flip him and make him move his focus away from spin, you are wrong. There are reports that it is actually ‘fast’ and ‘swing’ bowling that holds his attention. I am really guessing out here, but I have a feeling that Justice Kapadia is at the moment less important to him than Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif.

And why not? Sharad Pawar has been a politician, a minister, a Chief Minister and a Prime Minister in waiting for so long that a few barbs here and there, trying to prick his conscience about starving Indians will not really matter to him. After all, how can it matter when the ‘farmer’ politician knows that a 20% food inflation will starve people (who spend almost 80% of their income on food) and then blithely announces that the menace will soon be tamed… I am sure, it was easier Taming the Shrew… But for Sharad Pawar, this is his first stint as the President of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and scandals like the one so embarrassingly visible about Pakistani players is a challenge he is facing for the first time. After all, his name in posterity could go down as the honcho of ICC, who presided over the decline and fall of cricket because fans fi nally got tired of watching fixed matches. Surely you know that is different from poor farmers getting tired of ‘fixed’ distribution of food.

But jokes apart, and trying our best to forget the mess that the Commonwealth Games is making when it comes to the image of India (and please don’t smirk: I won’t be surprised if some of our new IPL stars from India eventually get enmeshed in this spot fixing scam), have we given serious thought to this extreme and ultimate form of crony socialism? I mean, Sharad Pawar might be the ultimate when it comes to multi-tasking; but how does he simultaneously deal with starving Indians and the swinging ways of Pakistani fast bowlers whose girl friends tend to kiss and yell? You can give as much spin as you want to this sorry tale; but surely Sharad Pawar must be spending some quality time everyday on the spot fixing scam? What about food security for Indians?

Call me nostalgic and a fool (and I am sure some guys made money even then). But I remember being proud of being an Indian during Asian Games '82. And I was prouder still when I heard tales as a young journalist about how Madhav Rao Scindia played a key role in ensuring South Asia got the Cricket World Cup in 1996. I know, South Asia is once again preparing for the next edition of the World Cup in 2011. And I know we will rave and rant about ‘white’ and ‘western’ media and people being prejudiced and racist when it comes to simple, God-fearing, innocent folks like you and me.

Like some Queen somewhere might have said when asked about spot fixing: “Out Damned Spot”.