Rising prices have been dogging us for over a decade, oil prices are not the only ones
Rising fuel prices and the weakening Rupee…that is what everyone is talking about this week. I am surprised at the reaction from all quarters though – economists, politicians, but mostly, the aam aadmi. I mean, can we really say that we did not see this coming? Prices fluctuate depending on global cues, and international crude prices may rise or fall based on sudden policy announcements taken by the likes of Donald Trump. But while the uncertainties are ever-present, they are not new. Time and again, India and the rest of the world has tackled rising crude prices. What leaves me not so surprised is how we have come to accept the exponentially rising prices of everything else. Global cues don't dictate domestic prices of essential commodities. And, in India, we have been witnessing a steady rise in prices for several years now. It is unfortunate that this has become acceptable to the common man and does not convert into a strong enough election issue forcing political parties to concentrate more on governance and management of the economy.
Let me help you understand this better. Remember the size and taste of a Rs 10 chocolate bar 15 years ago. Today, that same chocolate bar costs Rs 40 and barely tastes like real chocolate. Input cost prices have risen so much that not only has the price of the chocolate bar exponentially increased, its size has reduced and its quality has deteriorated. The pressure of inflation is seen not only in how much a kilo of onions cost you at the grocer's, it is hidden in the price, quality and quantity of every product that you purchase. When was the last time you honestly bought something and felt that you received the best price, quality and quantity for your money? Chances are, never. You will either be paying through your nose for quality but may not still be happy with the quantity.
Even the foreign companies doing business here have caught on. FMCGs, food and retail giants sell products at fairly competitive rates but compromise on quality that would never pass muster in the developed nations or other developing countries. See the difference in the food quality of a McDonald's or Domino's Pizza in India vis-a-vis in the US, Europe or even southeast Asia. But we never question it because heck, no one around us does! Consumerism and clever marketing prevent the consumer from asking the most pointed question – when you buy something, what are you exactly paying for? We have to be mindful not only of what ingredients go into a product but also why we end up getting charged exorbitant rates.
And, this day has been creeping up on us for years. Just look at our depreciating Rupee. In 1998, a dollar was worth Rs 42.58, in 2008, the Rupee weakened to Rs 49.82 and, in 2018, it slipped below Rs 72 against the dollar! Now, we will pay even more for foreign studies and travel; as if it was not expensive already. Developing nations historically bear the brunt of unstable currencies but when prices of everything else is also rising, it does drill a large hole in the common man's pocket. India's inflation has been increasing since the last decade with a marginal drop since 2010.
So, while life in Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru, may seem to be cheaper than in say Singapore, Tel Aviv or Sydney, when the cost of living is compared in absolute prices to the average income of an Indian, ours is definitely more expensive by comparison. This gap between our income and expenditure is wide and continuing to be so. Therefore, while rising oil prices may be corrected in the short-term, don't be fooled by what the politicians pelt out. We are paying way too much for our daily needs, essential services, education and health. It is time for us to recognise that and demand redressal and correction. Perhaps hinge our vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls on it too.
(The author is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)