Monday, February 6, 2023
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Why India appears strangely silent on sky-high fuel prices

Before 2014, fuel price hikes used to outrage the public. Today, nobody seems to care. The difference tells you a lot about what appears to be ‘public opinion’.

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When Narendra Modi became prime minster in 2014, a litre of petrol in Delhi cost Rs 71. Today it costs Rs 88. Diesel has been hit much harder: from Rs 57 in May 2014 to almost Rs 80 now in Delhi.

Much of this increase has happened in the last one year alone. In this one year, people have lost jobs and incomes, and inflation has soared. That’s a double whammy: fuel getting expensive just when people have less money in their pockets. In an economy where the official growth rate contracted by 7.5 per cent, this should have been a matter of huge public concern, even outrage and uproar.

Indians, however, seem so calm about it that one could come up with trite Oriental cliches about India. You know, Indians take all suffering, believe in karma, and so on.

Yet just 6-7 years ago, Indians seemed to be very angry about high fuel prices. In fact, it was one of the reasons that the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-2 government was voted out of power in 2014. How is it that the very thing that used to make us angry then doesn’t make us angry now? What a silly thing this, public opinion, inexplicable like the stock market.

Either the public is affected by high fuel prices, or it is not. Either public opinion was lying before 2014, or it is lying now. What gives?

Also read: Economic ideology is the new binary in Indian politics as Modi swerves Right & Rahul Left

Crystallising public opinion

How do we know that fuel prices were a big issue before 2014? Two things gave us this impression back then: the media and the opposition. Today both are silent. The media has the excuse of government pressure. What is the opposition’s excuse?

Before 2014, fuel price hike was one of the strongest issues that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used to take up. There was a bike rally organised by the Delhi unit of the BJP in 2013, led by senior party leaders, that drove to Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s residence. Party workers broke barriers and tried to enter the CM’s residence, resulting in the police using water cannons. Enough and more visuals were created for the media.

If it ain’t captured in a photo, it ain’t public opinion.

Today, if you ask an opposition leader why they aren’t protesting against the fuel price hike, they’ll say what’s the point, the media won’t show it anyway. If you ask media professionals why it is so silent about fuel price hikes, they’ll say what to do, the Congress is doing nothing about it.

We know that public opinion is not a given; it has to be ‘crystalised’. In a country where the conventional wisdom is that corruption is not an issue since everyone is corrupt anyway, the Lokpal movement made corruption an issue. Similarly, fuel prices were an issue — appeared to be an issue — because the issue was crystalised, turned into protest events with visuals that capture public attention. Such visuals make it difficult even for the most hostile media to ignore. That’s why UPA-2 often had to roll back fuel price hikes.

The BJP’s fuel price hike protests would include ‘jail bharo’ or voluntary detention, and a Bharat Bandh every now and then. Their Bharat Bandhs, or all-India strikes, were so large-scale that even global media took note. Over a Bharat Bandh in 2010, a foreign reporter noted: “Protesters have blocked trains and buses, set barricades of burning tires and clashed with police….some leaders of the opposition party were arrested for acts of civil disobedience. The ruling Congress Party says it has to end subsidies on fuel as a way to contain soaring government deficits….”

Those were the days when we used to have “Life hit as parties protest fuel price hike” kind of headlines. Life is no longer ‘hit’ as a lazy opposition waits for the media to do their job.

Also read: Excise duties & Robin Hood politics — why fuel prices are rising despite low global rates

Inflation returns 

Even if the opposition doesn’t articulate people’s issues, the people do articulate in elections. In 2020, I met voters in the Bihar assembly election who complained about rising prices of essential commodities, though strangely blaming the Bihar state government for it.

In Modi’s first term, one of his biggest achievements was low inflation. In fact, the Modi government has been reluctant to put too much money in the hands of farmers precisely for fear of food inflation. No central government has ever returned to power despite high inflation.

High fuel prices don’t directly hit the poorest people. They hit the middle class, which is anyway enraptured by Narendra Modi. But the indirect impact of high fuel prices on overall inflation will also eventually hit the poor. Thankfully for the Modi government, inflation seems to be coming under control again.

The government has a lot of room to cut fuel prices since almost two-thirds of it is tax. The government has been using taxes on fuel to make up for its revenue losses as economic growth has turned into a recession. This means that a high-pitched protest on fuel prices by the opposition can easily result in a small political victory for them. Why they don’t do it is a mystery best explained by them.

The author is a contributing editor. Views are personal.

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  1. Fuel prices rise in India strikingly from 9 February 2021.
    Fuel prices in India have been rising strikingly since 9 February 2021. The increase in the prices of petrol and diesel have gone up to historic high levels in several cities across the country. Gas prices have also gone very high. However , fuel prices are reported to have remained unchanged for some days past. In this context , it may be precisely relevant to refer readers to this Vedic astrology writer’s one of predictions in article as follows published in on 29 January 2021.
    Predictive alerts for more care and appropriate strategy in vulnerable countries of world during 9 February , particularly from mid-February to 10 March in 2021. The predictive alert on 29 January 2021 was that during the period of time from 9 February , particularly from mid-February to 10 February 2021 prices of petrol-diesel-gas are likely to go high strikingly. The predictive alert has been confirmed precisely accurate.
    Link to reach the predictive article:

  2. This is now called the logic flowing in. Kannan Sir! Wonderful question.. Beware, you will still be called Bhakt. As per them, Govt can’t do any good. Have you ever found them praising the Make in India initiatives, Swatch Bharat. If you disagree, you are Bhakt. 🤣😂🤗 I am sure many won’t even mind answering your question as it doesn’t involve their interest Mr. BJP.😜
    I say before asking anyone why they did wrong, we need to ask what we did Right.

  3. Main point is today opposition is fighting for its own existence,they are too occupied in finding their footing so they have no concern for issues faced by common man! This is an era of doom for Indians who inspite of all these attrocities by the government still keeps voting for them. As for media ,they have been all bought up and literally owned by govt so why would they utter even a single word.
    It’s time common man unite and wake up before it’s way too late.

  4. 71 rupees in 2014 to 88 rupees in 2021 means an inflation of 3.1% in fuel. Given that the target inflation is 4% and out real gdp growth average has been about 7% during the past 7 years of Modi Govt, 3.1% is a very reasonable inflation rate.

    In UPA days, we used to have inflation of 8%. That’s why there were large scale protests. 3.1% is a very reasonable inflation rate.

    Idiots here complaining that fuel prices are at an all time high. That’s because prices are supposed to increase every year. It’s called inflation. The job of the Govt is not to keep the prices constant for all eternity. It’s to ensure that prices rise at a reasonable rate every year. NDA did that, UPA didn’t.

    As for Mr Vij complaining about the Opposition not doing enough protests, I would like to ask him respectfully, are you high? What about the so-called farm protests? What about anti-CAA riots last year? BJP never did anything like blocking key roads of Delhi for months, basically holding India’s capital city hostage to their demands.

    • Unreasonable Blind bhakt. Stop defending the loot by the govt. Fuel prices were high in 2013 were high because crude oil prices were touching $130/barrel, still we were getting petrol @ ,₹71/litre. Now crude oil is $62/barrel but petrol is being sold for ₹95/litre. How?

      • For your kind info Rupee value deprecated against dollar, in between these years. Check the rupee value in 2013 and what is now in 2021. For crude oil We need to pay in dollars, not in rupees. So oil prices are also affected by this.

        • Bhai Sahab, and who do you think is responsible for managing the rupe and dollar conversion rate? Is it the opposition?

  5. Middle class should vote this government out.. they have not provided respite in income tax and no respite in fuel prices.. they are merely serving corporate needs and distributing free money in the name of welfare schemes.. people who are working hard to feed their family are taken for a ride.. Government is answerable to people with logical reasons, whereas this government gives cliche reasons – “previous government failed to deliver”

  6. Since 2014 there is only acche din for one person and his team, rest all are lollipop, chuste raho swad ata rahega, Modi government is lucky to escape every time.

  7. Why to bother about fuel hike protest when there is already other protests are going on? Opposition and media is busy with Farmers protest trying to devide the country on the lines of Farmers vs non farmers. They also see an opportunity to divide the country in single protest as Sikh vs Hindus. just search how many protests happened in year 2020 and how they were hyped and milkednby Media and opposition. Anti CAA, Majdur Demonstration, hathrus gangrene, name a few. You keep proving to be Idiot Mr Vij

  8. Shivam Vij again tried to write a article on “fuel hike” but ended up bashing Hindus : “You know, Indians take all suffering, believe in karma, and so on.” Clearly people of other religions dont buy fuel, so blame Hindus.

    • I am wondering at your rage and the contradiction in your writing about the author bashing Hindus : “You know, Indians take all suffering, believe in karma, and so on.” Clearly people of other religions dont buy fuel, so blame Hindus.

      Sivam did not mention Hindus. He did not say about Indians and karma (you said it on his behalf; but if you say Indians, then it does not mean Hindus specifically, so that is a contradiction in your claim that the author is bashing Hindus, or he is blaming Hindus. Unless you think Indians are only Hindus).

      Your last sentence does not even make sense. People of other religions are also buying fuel and they are also be suffering – but they are minorities, and they are voiceless. They will only raise their voice if their life is threatened like in CAA-NRC, farm protests etc.

      If there is an implied criticism in Sivam’s article, and you feel it is directed at Hindus, there is a reason – Hindus are the majority, this govt. goes out of its way to say it is Hindu, so if the economy is messed up with foolhardy measures like demonetisation, Covid mishandling, and the govt’s time is spent fighting students, minorities and farmers, and Hindus keep quiet, then how can people of other minority religions be responsible for the growing international perception of the country going to the dogs ?

      This permanent rage about people being against Hindus was never seen in Congress time, funny it is only observed with a govt. that shows off its Hindu credentials ! The BJP rages not only against minorities but against Hindus who are unlike them, and the outside world (Greta and Rihanna). Earlier Modi used to boast about Foreign Direct Investment or FDI. Now he says FDI is Foreign Destructive Ideology, meaning Greta and Rihanna ! So take out frustration on Indians like Disha Ravi.

  9. The middle class are enthusiastic bhakts, so really they will not complain. They believe what they are told : they are sacrificing for the greater good, and long term gain. That is how they accepted demonetisation.

    The suffering majority do not have the will to fight. They are weak, they cannot afford to be alive. Look how the ‘migrant workers’ were treated. They do not know they have rights.

    Anyone who stands for them is imprisoned as urban Naxal.

    The minorities cannot complain. Modi says he does not need their votes.

    The bhakths – sitting in Ram mandir collection committees and the Adanis and Ambanis have got richer, so they have no issue with petrol price. These are the most influential people.

    The NRI living in America and who ardently supports Modi does not face the pinch.

    The Ram temple will start by the time of the next election – and the majority will follow that. No one will notice the squalor around it.

  10. I believe, Govt has taken looto-middle class stand, it is clearly evident that govt is taxing middle class mainly service class who aspires for good life But ends up paying taxes to the riches and good chunk of that money is being used for reducing corporate tax, cheaper intrest rate for corporate in name of job creation, bailouts etc , but the fact is Cronies of the world doesn’t work for welness of society , Instead are more bothered about their own wealth creation.

    There is no support to existing trade channels/msme and sme , corporate are trying to penetrate at granular level without bothering about loss of income for SME and MSME. There is much more to it but it is very clear that traditional business and traditional trade channels are in real threat and soon pain of unorganised sector will be visible.
    If I am not wrong; A’s net worth grew more than 5 times and another A’s more than 2.5 times in modi era. What about we middle class had it been equal platform Our wealth should have also increased on same scale.
    Deriving Inflation adjusted fuel price is okie. It is elementary but question is how do one can apply indian inflation rates on commodity which is based on global price It is a fact that this govt has increased taxes on fuel to serve riches.

  11. The taxes will be cut when there is an election around the corner. Even though there is plenty of room, why do the right thing when there is no immediate advantage to the government?

  12. We know about mainstream media as this article alludes. The opposition does not have have deep pocket financial resources to plan any any activity of protests or sloganeering or Mass Dharnas after unconstitutional electoral bonds aftermath. ED is ready to go after as we see quite often……….will they (voters) show their anger at polling booths?. Let us see..

  13. Well opposition has no money to mobilise people. People have no money or job so they are too busy scrambling to make their ends meet

    • Fuel consumption is back to pre-covid levels. Businesses and people have to consume fuels as there is no choice but for business amd life to go on.

      Indian people particularly the salaried middle class tend to save a lot. Maybe the fuel prices still do not make much of a dent in their savings?

    • True that!! Conveniently blaming opposition and not a word against BJP! Rather they seek to justify the government’s action!!

  14. When you write “government”, include state governments also please.
    A question never asked is: What do state governments do with their taxes on fuel? More than 40% of the per-litre price of fuel is the taxes on fuel by the individual states.
    Do Congress-ruled states have lesser fuel prices?

  15. Suggestion: There should be a minimum income tax every head of family in India should pay per year in case he/she is not paying any income tax because he/she is self-employed. The amount could vary between each district, for example in a metro it could be Rs 500 per year, in a poor district it could be Rs 100 per year. Upto 2000-5000 crores can be mopped up this way then non tax paying public will realise that to get public infrastructure and services in this nation one has to necessarily pay Direct taxes.

    If such “basic” income tax is not paid, one should lose access to free public services like filing police complaints, filing court cases, treatment in public hospitals and even standing for any election whether be it panchayat or Lok Sabha. There could be exemptions for such tax collection like the elderly, the sick, tribals, very poor and the handicapped etc. But overall idea is to target every family to pay income tax. This “basic” income tax should be collected by the state and not by the Centre and the funds from such taxes should be utilised for that locality only.

    This way everyone contributes to one’s local public infrastructure and services for transport, roads, police, judiciary, healthcare, waste management etc. This will lessen the burden of indIrect taxes only slightly but will instill a sense of Civic responsibility in families that don’t pay any taxes. Destroying public infrastructure like burning buses, littering, etc. will also come down as people become aware that they are paying for those buses and clean roads. They will also understand that overworked public institutions like police, judiciary, hospitals etc. are paid for by their direct taxes at least partially.

    True nationalism is sensible only when people pay taxes !

  16. I generally do not comment but here on this article I will comment. Before 2014, it was not the fuel prices that were biting consumers but prices of commodity. Honestly, people do not care if prices of fuels go over the roof till inflation is down and prices of daily essentials are in control. You should remember prices of pulses that were touching 250 – 300. That was the real pain for people and not fuel prices. It actually reflects general administrative ability which Manmohan Singh government lacked and hence high inflation.

  17. Bcoz, the opposition is rudderless. Once the opposition comes up with proper alternative, people will start looking up to the opposition. None in the opposition is articulating a better way to handle issues

  18. The real reason is people know why the fuel prices are being taxed so high…..because the people who have jacked up the taxes are people who are honest and citizens know that the money raised is going for the right causes…. cost of managing the covid crisis, LAC Crisis, the other crises….citizens are willing to play their part in these crises…the point n is credibility of the leaders….

  19. You cannot simultenously demand a huge welfare state subsidising everything and saying they shouldnot raise funds by taxing fuel which is the one major source of revenue to pay for all this.

    • Screw the welfare and stop extorting us through taxes on fuel. Welfare is only a means to win elections for political parties. Doesn’t do development, doesn’t contribute to growth, and in a bigger picture causes more harm than good.

  20. Print india rolls out the usual congress propaganda like anything.. instead providing analysis.. in short…tere baap chor hai

  21. Who knows, it might just be govt’s not-so-subtle way of telling people to go the EV route? After all, it was the dreadful and much-hated ‘demonetization’ roll-out which forced so many to go the e-payment route, and which incidentally, came in most handy during the Covid pandemic.

    • Please read the article. Don’t blame Congress for everything. I want you to remember that BJP is in central from 2014. Nobody is blaming bjp or congrss in above article. Use your brain if you have

  22. The Middle Class buys petrol. The Middle Class has voted Modi wholeheartedly. Now the Middle Class is enjoying it. Why spoil the thrill.

  23. The two who responsible for the lack of protests that Shri Shivam Vij complains about are Greta Thunberg and Disha Ravi. These two climate change activists have raised the consciousness of the general population to the dangers of burning fossil fuels. Now Shri Vij knows where to direct his ire. More pain him, it is possible that these two ladies will also learn in future about how stubble burning causes pollution leading to climate change.

  24. Print, Quint, Mojo Jojo, Wire all these channels are why we all need to continue to unite against these leftist elites. The people aren’t screaming cause they know the money that will be collected is not getting looted, its being put in the development of India. Heard about One Nation One Grid?
    We need to push people to move to CNG vehicles and reduce consumption of oil, I support raising the rates more as long as BJP keeps building the gas infrastructure and opens up more CNG stations. The future in CNG and Electric and I am so glad we are moving towards the same.

  25. Public should stop or reduce fuel consumption automatically fuel prices will come down as it happens in western countries. Politicians should not be allowed to interfere in our personal life & activities.

  26. Actually it’s very. Simple. Higher fuel prices means higher profits for Refineries. Including government and private. The biggest Refiner is RIL . Ambani says that both NDA & UPA are “Apani Dukaan”. And it appears to be true.

  27. Who will fund JNU if government stop taxing fuel, already jholachaps and journalists are showing their incomes as below tax bracket?

  28. Congress is killing democracy more than bjp . Congress people are just rich people who don’t know how to work on ground and work for poor and middle class which they claim .

  29. “In fact, it was one of the reasons that the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-2 government was voted out of power in 2014. ….” Shivam we all know about Congress sycophants like you…. But still to correct the above statement…. Congress was NOT voted out because of fuel price hike rather they were voted out because of 2G, 3G, JijaaGi, coal scam, rampant open looting of the nation’s resources, indecision in implementation of policies, corruptive practices, harbouring and colluding with criminal politicians, delays everywhere in implementing projects and the list goes on…

  30. Possibly because people realise that fossil fuels are cause of air pollution. Like cigarettes it does no good to human health. So best to keep it expensive so consumption is measured. If prices are lowered consumption goes up and so does India’s import bill. Not everyone is dumb like the middlemen protesting the new farm laws. The same rich middlemen who want free power, water etc at the expense of the hard-working tax payer. Free water and electricity means you waste your own water resources, ground water depletion, desertification etc. and destroying your own livelihood. Not everyone wants to cut the branch they are sitting on. But luckily not everyone doesn’t get it like this opinion writer.

  31. The columnist is a stupid person having no knowledge about Mathematics.
    Here is the math:
    Since 2014, about SEVEN years have passed.
    Average inflation rate for past THIRTY years is Eight Per Cent.

    Thus, 1.07^8 = 1.7138
    For Petrol: 71*1.7138 = 121.68. // Actual price today is just Rs.80.00 as per article !!
    For Diesel:57*1.7138 = 97.68. // Actual price is 80.00 as per article !!

    Conclusion: The columnist is a typical anti HINDU, anti BJP guy who has NO idea of Mathematics !!

    • So true! No wonder journalists today are so bad at explaining complex things and tend to put their bias behind their naive explanations

    • This comment is wrong at so many levels, I wonder why I even bother correcting it.

      First of all, using the average inflation rate for past thirty years to find price change over the last 7 years is mental gymnastics at its finest.
      Second, the price of fuel hasn’t gone up, only the government taxes on it, so it’s not inflation at all, merely more taxes.

      If you’re happy to pay all these costs, that’s totally fine, but atleast come up with legitimate reasons if you want to convince others.

  32. It’s because oppositions as well as the government, both have vested interest in keeping the fuel prices high. Both are looting the people in the name of serving the poor.

  33. Because Majority of Indian population believes in Modi and the taxes they are paying are useful for nation building rather then as a loot under congress government and the money was used to give ahah subsidies to Muslims, under Modi government, the money is used for poor and building of infrastructure and Strengthening Indian Army

    • Time to look at remaining schemes. Haj subsidy is stopped anyways, now wake up and look at other schemes that drain the nation. For example, the Rural Employment Guarantee scheme is a big sink hole. Taxpayers have no idea how the money is utilised.

      Schemes like the Ayushman Bharat scheme, Swach Bharat scheme, Affordable Housing… – how does it do nation building? It is for votes, nothing else. Whichever party comes to power they will do this one way or the other.

      Public infrastructure projects (roads, airports, railways, hospitals, sewage systems, transportation etc.) is more apt for nation building rather than welfare schemes targetted towards only some people. Tax paying salaried class in private sector will never get free medical insurance or affordable housing when they retire or when they are unemployed. Those self-employed ( especially in smaller towns and villages) who don’t pay income taxes they can hide their incomes and report themselves as beneficiaries for welfare schemes in rural areas. Taxpayers need to wake up and find out who are the actual beneficiaries of public funds.

  34. If Rahul and Co want to make an impact on the fuel price issue then they have to leave their ivory towers and really agitate on the streets and physically go to jail to convince people of their sincerity. No one is going to listen to their clever tweets , sent from the comfort of a 5 star suite.

  35. Massive hike in #petrol prices is a prime example of the failure of Congress-led UPA. This will put a burden of hundreds of crores on Guj. I didn’t say it was the then Gujarat CM. He is now as it’s benefitting Gujarat. He further added that Sardar is not Asardar to control fuel prices.

  36. Because the inflation is still low and people understand that this is good way to collect revenue for both states and center. A huge number of non tax payers merrily use 2 and 4 wheelers who through the higher prices contributing to the economy in these difficult times. They also know that unlike in the old days, these funds are now getting more and more difficult to syphon off. The only lot that talks about the higher prices are the people who can more that afford it.

  37. As a tax payer, we will pay up whatever the price of fuel is. There are too many people doing “Dharnas” now in India. Everybody wants “everything” free-of-cost. So the high fuel price is meaningful. It allows government to collect some revenue to give all these stupid sops like scholarships, Farm loan waivers, Haj subsidies, free electricity, free water…..

    • The government should launch a special income tax scheme that allows the true sons of the soil to voluntarily contribute a greater percentage of their income for nation building and let the rest of the ‘not so patriot’ enjoy some relief for our wallets

  38. Why India appears strangely silent on sky-high fuel prices ? Mr. Vij contributing Editor of thePrint seems to be a very clever person. He is afraid in stating the real reason. Previously during the days of Rule of dynasty people FEARED that a major portion of HARD EARNED money of taxpayers and customers of PSU s is going to Banks of Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland etc. Now money is being spent on public welfare, as a support to poor and needy during pandemic , on development of nation , on providing state of art weaponry to our defense forces. . Common man knows this . But strangely all-knowing highly educated journalist is trying to ignore this. It is just a matter of difference of perception about two ruling groups– UPA & NDA by the people about honesty and their integrity. Loss of 2014 was not just loss of power, it was loss of perception also,

    one more point, It is better to tax at high rate a single or limited group of items having inelastic demand ., than to tax hundred of items of daily use. This economic fundamental principle of taxation is known to even to student of Economics of class 12.

    • Another economic fundamental principle of taxation known to students of economics of class 12 is that tax collected at sale are regressive. Low income earners lose more to such taxes as a percentage of their income. It’s the same reason why essentials like food are exempted from GST.
      The perception that taxes are now being used for the right purposes may be one of the many reasons why there were no large scale protests, but putting all the burden funding govt expenditure on one essential commodity is not very clever from a macroeconomic perspective, even if it appears that it’s working right now.

      • Even earlier under UPA when fuel prices were raised, excise duty generated was used to fund highly beneficial projects such as MNREGA, FSA and also defence purchases like the US made heavy lift aircraft. The money was not frittered away , though NDA would like to project it that way.

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