“Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai?” is a 1980’s Hindi movie starring Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Om Puri. It received the Filmfare Critics’ award for the Best movie in 1981. It is about the angst of a young car mechanic who initially felt that undisciplined and striking workers were responsible for everything that was wrong in society. Through bitter experiences he gradually discovered that the major cause of labour unrest and various social ills was the capitalists that controlled the economy.
Abh mujhko bhi gussa hai (now I too am angry). There is angst and disappointment. In my previous article “Dil ka Dard” I had expressed the pain felt by my fellow countrymen because of the tall claims and false promises of the Pradhanmantriji (PMG). I may be permitted the use of this acronym because PMG himself is adept at making English acronyms for Hindi phrases. AYUSH, for example, is an acronym for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, which are projected as “indigenous” medicine systems. Ayush is also the Sanskrit word for “life” an appropriate name for the Health Ministry. But there is a fly in the medical ointment. Unani means Greek, and the system originates from the teachings of Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC); and homoeopathy of course originated in Germany. So what is indigenous about them? Is there no place for allopathy in the Health Ministry? Is this the apathy that led to hundreds of kids dying in the BRD Hospital, Gorakhpur?
So PMG I do have angst against you. I previously challenged you on 6 of your major poll promises. I had not touched on terrorism. Despite your bombastic claims of a surgical strike, the terrorist attacks have actually increased. Earlier they were on soft targets, but now they are on military targets, with a repeat attack on Pathankot; proving that no lessons have been learnt. Kashmir was peaceful before you took over. But your National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval’s 56” doctrine has wreaked havoc there. You have lost the plot completely. You were visiting Nawaz Sharif on his birthday, and entertaining the Chinese Premier with lion cubs on a swing. Your naiveté backfired. There is a saying, “In war, truth is the first casualty”. So we really don’t know who blinked first at Doklam. Regardless, our foreign policy, if at all we have one, is in a mess. You have sidelined your own competent and humane Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj. So PMG, I am gussa.
Your announcement of a bullet train has only added more grist to the mill of angst. In recent months there were three major accidents in the vicinity of Kanpur, where I live. A week ago my wife and I went to visit a friend in Bulandshahr, 7 hours travel time, by the 14613/14614 Sangam Express. The up train was 8 hours late, and the down one 4 hours late. While awaiting our train I noticed that the display board was showing every train running late! So PMG, I am gussa.
I support your Swachh Bharat (SB) campaign and the drive against black money. But both are hastily conceived and poorly implemented. A couple of weeks ago the President, Ramnath Kovind, who hails from Kanpur, came for a SB rally at a non-descript village called Ishwaripur. I had never heard of it before. After the tamasha, the next morning’s newspapers were blazoned with photographs of the litter strewn around. Hypocrisy at its worst. So PMG, I am gussa.
You have chosen Mahatma Gandhi’s chasma as the symbol for SB. The Mahatma and his wife Kasturba cleaned the public toilets, not just for sanitation, but more so to express solidarity with the bhangis, who were at the bottom of the heap. I have seen you and your ministers using long handled brooms to sweep a few dry leaves. But I have not seen any of you actually cleaning toilets or night soil. More than the chasma (specs) you need the Mahatma’s nazar (vision), his attitude and approach to others. We just celebrated Gandhi Jayanti. That morning I messaged my Gandhian friends that the U.N. had declared the day as International Non-violence Day; but you have diluted it to an SB day. You need to groom better ideas than the ubiquitous broom. So PMG, I am gussa.
I have always been against black money, and have suffered immense financial losses because I chose to stick to the straight and narrow, in both business and property dealing. I would have been thrilled if you had succeeded in your campaign against black money, via notebandi or otherwise. But the RBI Itself has admitted that this was an exercise in futility. This Hindi proverb is most apt, “ Khoda pahar, nikli chuhiya” (you dug up an entire mountain and only uncovered a squeaky mouse)! So PMG, I am gussa.
At the macro level economists have told you that like notebandi, the GST has also backfired, not just for its rates of tax, but more so for the complexities of compliance. Petty traders, small manufacturers and artisans cannot afford to hire chartered accountants, legal consultants and computer operators to feed all data online. So many, like me, have simply opted out. My family has been in business here for 160 years. Now the time has come to call it quits. I am literally closing shop. I was a pioneer in organised retailing in this city 25 years ago. Now it is game over. So PMG, I am gussa.
Fifteen years ago my family entered into a builder’s agreement to erect the city’s first mall, and I am the President of the Owners’ Association. From the time GST has been levied my accountant spends most of his time figuring out what to do from the experts, and uploading data, if the server is working. As a result our billing cycle has been disrupted, causing a severe resource and cash crunch. So PMG, I am gussa.
This Dusshera, the traders here burnt the effigy of GST as Ravana. A cold storage owner told me that they had to throw out tonnes of potatoes because the farmers did not have the money to redeem their stocks. The local distributors of Tata Tea and Nestle both told me that their sales have dropped 30% after GST. You talk of SB. Besides brooms you need toiletries and disinfectants. Earlier under Value Added Tax (VAT) toiletries were taxed at 14.5%, under GST it is 28%. Under VAT disinfectants like phenol were at 5%, now increased to 18%. So how can we aspire to a SB? At this rate, not just me, large sections of society are going to be disillusioned. One does not need to be a Nobel laureate like Amartya Sen to know where the shoe pinches.
Kanpur is famous for its leather industry and exports of finished leather, footwear and saddlery. I quote from a report by Mukhtarul Amin, the Chairperson of the Council for Leather Exports. Leather is a very labour intensive industry. Not just the Muslims, but Brahmans, Hindu Punjabis and Bengalis, and even some Malayali Christians are in the industry. GST on jobwork by small craftsmen has been pegged at 18%, and on leather goods like belts and purses at 28%. Duty drawback on exports have been reduced from 9.6% to 2.6%, thereby making the industry more capital intensive, and allowing cheaper markets like Bangladesh to emerge. Despite a crackdown by the National Green Tribunal and the economic slowdown of 2008, the leather industry grew by 11%, says Amin. But now he claims that leather exports have declined by 30%. So not just me, many more people are going to be gussa with you dear PMG.
You have waxed eloquent about a cashless economy and digitalisation. The day after your notebandi declaration PAYTM ran full front page newspaper ads. The majority shareholders of PAYTM are Chinese. So who benefited? Digitalisation will benefit Mukesh Ambani and his Jio. At a recent conference on mobile phones I heard him frankly admit that the money would come, not from the phones, but from data usage and transfer. So like Albert Pinto’s, my eyes are also opening to see who is really controlling the country and benefiting from your policy decisions. So PMG, I am gussa.
Whenever my man goes to the bank to get my poor savings bank passbook updated he invariably returns dejected because the “servers are down”. There are several more firsthand experiences in different sectors that show that digitalisation is not the Viagra for the economy that you are making it out to be. So PMG, with your digitile dysfunction I am both dejected and gussa.
Yes the capitalists are happy with you, and will surely continue to fund your elections and event management. Chartered Accountants, tax consultants and revenue lawyers (anticipating increased litigation) will also be happy. But whether they have enough votes between themselves to get you re-elected in 2019 remains to be seen. As of now, vast numbers of ordinary Indians will join Albert Pinto and me in saying “Hum sabko gussa aa raha hai”.
A parting salvo. Your slogan was “Sabka saath, sabka vikas” (For everyone and their development). Unfortunately it now seems to be “Khaas ke saath, samaj ka vinash” (With the privileged, and sowing the seeds of social discord). So PMG, I am gussa.
(The writer is the Convenor of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch, and led Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption campaign in 2011.)
(Published on 09th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 41)