Boom or bust: Indian economy story

“The world is predicting that it’s India’s chance to fly,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday. Actually, the world has been saying this for years, just that Indians did not believe it. Who really can? We are so busy negotiating the daily hassles of commuting, earning, saving, and paying our taxes. Those damn taxes.

And every budget makes us feel like thieves. It robs us of our dignity. Every single rupee saved is seen as a rupee robbed from the taxman. No seriously. What fly? Please allow us our yearly crib. At least that isn’t taxable so far. Or do I have to show my PAN card before cribbing? I mean crib-na hamara janm-siddh adhikaar hai. Crib-na is my birthright and I shall have it. You get the picture.

‘Brief case’ for  middle class India: In essence, when you tax everything, there are no savings, so what is the point in giving tax relief for savings? It just hurts the dignity of the middle class. Yup, and there are approximately 400 million of them. Pic/PTI
‘Brief case’ for  middle class India: In essence, when you tax everything, there are no savings, so what is the point in giving tax relief for savings? It just hurts the dignity of the middle class. Yup, and there are approximately 400 million of them. Pic/PTI

First I have to go hunting for Indian-made cell phones, mixer-grinder and microwave ovens because, yes, you guessed it, they are cheaper. Once they are made, that is. Then they will arrive in the shops, then I will buy them, then I will get them repaired, then I will find a cheaper imported model as a stand-by in case the Indian model dies on me. That’s the way our lives work right? Back up for everything.

So why doesn’t any finance ministry gyani realise that when the 400-million salaried middle class has to buy back-ups, pay taxes, pay EMIs, there really is nothing left for savings, insurance and pension that you want to give tax benefits for?

In essence, when you tax everything, there are no savings, so what is the point in giving tax relief for savings? It just hurts the dignity of the middle class. Yup, and there are approximately 400 million of them. Many don’t even pay taxes. But hold-on, just think... so many votes! But then that is Amit Shah’s problem, I suppose. And not really a problem for another four years. Yeah, I know Bengal and Bihar elections are due. But then that has been taken care of in the East-India package by the West-India origin Prime Minister.

Back to the middle class. With service tax and education cess hiked from 12.6% to 14%, all that one had accepted as necessities now become luxuries. Smartphones, air travel, eating out, vacations… even a pedicure and manicure, damn it. So basically the government is telling us, don’t spend more. And that is good for the economy how? I don’t get it. The Indian economy may be headed for a boom, but many Indians are feeling a sneaking sensation of going bust.

First, take great pride in becoming all-digital India… how everything is going to be available on your handsets, from postal services to weather updates for fishermen to women’s security apps. Then make phones so expensive that the poor and middle class find it difficult to buy them. But then I guess one should be happy, when one is 80-plus and “not eligible to take health insurance, deduction is allowed for Rs 30,000 toward medical expenditure.” Seriously, you are killing me with so much kindness. And my grandma, who is 90-plus, will also figure out that you have been so generous.

And humour, too. You increase transport allowance exemption from R800 to R1,600 per month. Barely had one opened the bubbly (Pepsi, not champagne) that you increase petrol fare and diesel prices by over Rs 3.
But we should be happy, I guess, that some rich dudes are going to be miserable with that FERA-like law returning. Those guys thought that just because they donated to the BJP campaign they could take their summer vacation in their villas in Southern France. I mean, you got to line up like schoolboys and shake hands with President Obama. That should be enough. The honest-to-God government is not going to be a grateful friend.

It has just delivered an amazing gift to ED tax inspectors, who must be salivating at the thought of threatening people with jail terms even for the most minor fault. It’s never the big fish but the small ones who will face the wrath of the new laws. Sending the inspector after you now, threatening with seven to ten years’ rigorous imprisonment, on the suspicion of stashing away some undeclared wealth abroad. Chakki peesing and peesing in India Shining.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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