Retail inflation a slow death of dreams, aspirations and hope

Inflation is not sparing anyone, but for the retired, daily wage earners and those employed in the informal sector, it is a slow death of dreams, aspirations and hope.

Published: 20th August 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th August 2023 05:36 PM   |  A+A-


Inflation is racing at breakneck speed in India, with no respite in sight. Retail inflation was at a 15-month high in July, and August may break that record too. Prices of vegetables, cereals and pulses are surging uncontrollably. While experts can quibble about the exact percentage of Consumer Price Inflation and the methodology of its calculation, the harsh fact is that runaway inflation is making life more challenging for the middle class and the poor. These figures are mere dots in a graph for the privileged few, but for most people, it is a life-and-death situation. Inflation is not sparing anyone, but for the retired, daily wage earners and those employed in the informal sector, it is a slow death of dreams, aspirations and hope. 

There was a time when governments used to be worried about rising inflation. The humble onion has caused many regime changes in our history. In the 1980 General Election, dubbed the ‘Onion Election’, Indira Gandhi swept to power, riding the anger caused by the rising onion prices. Not that she could do much after coming to power. The prices continued to rise and reached the princely sum of Rs 6 per kg in 1981. There would be murders and riots in our cities if someone sold onions at that price now. But the rising cost of onion became a talking point in Parliament. One MP, Rameshawaram Singh, from the opposition party, came to the Rajya Sabha wearing a garland of onions.

When onion prices reached Rs 45/kg in 1998, there was a massive uproar across the country. Opposition parties started sending onions as Diwali presents to shame the ruling party. The immortal wit, Jaspal Bhatti, started walking with men dressed as black cat commandos whenever he went to purchase onions. People had a sense of humour then, and there was no social media to inspire drawing-room patriots, so Bhatti was not branded an anti-national. 

Sushma Swaraj was one of the finest leaders in Independent India and one of the few politicians who cared for the people. In the brief time she was the chief minister of Delhi, she did her best to curb the prices. But onion didn’t care for her best intentions, and the humble salt, which had once shaken the British Empire from Dandi, joined the fun. The price increase of onion and salt snatched away victory from Sushma Swaraj. In Rajasthan, the onion chased Bhairon Singh Shekawat out of power in the same period. Manmohan Singh had a scare in 2010 when onions breached the Rs 100/kg point. 

Now, onion appears steady, while tomato prices have gone through the roof. It has touched Rs 300/kg in many parts of the country, and the fair-price shops selling it at Rs 70 or Rs 90/kg are attracting queues that would make Russians nostalgic about Soviet era. To put things in perspective, India’s minimum daily wage is Rs 178. With unemployment and underemployment rates breaking records, the actual earning for many families is lesser than the figure. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) captures only a fixed basket of goods and services, mainly food, clothing, housing, fuels and medical care. Unlike developed countries, we have almost 60 percent weightage to food and fuel—in comparison, it is 9.3 percent in the UK and 13.2 percent in the US. That means the Indian CPI is not calculat-ing many things that the average reader of the column— mainly the middle class—will be concerned about. There are no wits and satirists left to show the mirror. The media is all worried about how inflation will affect the stock market and how much profit investors will make.

Policies were always made for the business tycoons, but now they are openly made so with no pretence of concern to the common man. It tells a lot about the health of our democracy that the despair of the majority of people is not even a talking point in the state Assemblies and Parliament. In short, the rising price of food, uniforms, clothing, school and college education, taxes and tolls etc., have eroded whatever little we have been earning after all the direct and indirect taxes. By the way, in that failed country named Pakistan, they are queuing up for basic necessities. That should be some


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