I am 33, and live with my parents, both retired bureaucrats, in an independent house in Noida. I drive on all working days to Gurugram, where I am a senior functionary in a call centre. I spend about three hours, on average, in my Hyundai I-20, negotiating traffic to and back from work.
I have learnt not to allow commotion outside on the street to enter the car. This is my quality time with self. Inside the comfort of my car, I listen to my favourite music and podcast telecasts. I have read, or heard, some ten audio books. I also find time to Skype friends in Europe and the US, as I follow the UK local time. I return home only in the wee hours of the day and get to spend time with my parents only over the weekend.
The fuel price rise is hurting me badly. Over the last six years, ever since I started working, my daily expenses on fuel have doubled to about Rs 1,000 a day. I can’t take the Metro or any other means of public transport as I have odd working hours. I don’t earn enough to afford a chauffeur-driven car, but even if I could, I’d prefer to drive on my own. It’s safer that way and car is my private space with glass windows.
I’m acutely aware that there’s been a drop in oil prices and all the benefits have been usurped by the government. People are too busy to protest. I carried out my own little research, listening to many podcasts on the oil economy and how it operates. Even read some pertinent articles. It’s amply clear that the government of India will make one of the oil companies bear the brunt of rising import bill to prevent further escalation of oil prices.
Yet my parents remain ardent supporters of the BJP. Though, they vehemently deny being ‘right-wingers’, my father says, “Narendra Modi has made India a superpower.” They seem convinced with rosy picture of the government and the state of affairs painted by popular media. Initially, I saw no reason to differ with my parents, but now I occasionally make them aware of my point of views.
My friends in Europe tell me that international oil prices have been artificially lowered to force Russia out of business. Russia’s economy suffered billions of dollars of losses due to an alleged campaign by the US that ensured unprecedented fall in oil prices from the peak of $147 per barrel to a low of $30. But the people of India have got no benefits. India’s crude oil import is still rising despite the quantity of imports in the month falling by 5 per cent, as the latest data published by Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC) highlights.
There’s a popular factoid being circulated on Facebook and Twitter comparing the performance of the two prime ministers, that of unassuming Manmohan Singh and the larger-than-life Narendra Modi as far as the management of oil economy is concerned. There’s hardly anything to choose from. Manmohan Singh was after all a reputed economist. Was it Manmohan Singh who said history will be kinder to me than media?
There’s so much to be paid to the government: GST, income tax, entertainment tax and what not! Oil prices are artificially high whereas global prices are artificially low. I don’t mind paying taxes to the government, but there are issues. They say we are a less taxed society, but the burden of tax is disproportionally high on the salaried. And what do we get in return? The state of government schools and hospitals is abysmally bad. There’s no social security. There’s an ever widening gulf between the rich and the poor. Even the air is even unfit to breathe.
Now even my parents find it hard to defend the incumbent regime. Especially when I ask them: “Achche din kab ayenge?”
* Name changed on request.
— As told to Mihir Srivastava during the long commute