Falling economy, rising anger

The Indian government's response to a slowing economy has drawn the anger of citizens and brought them out on to the streets.


    It's about 45 degrees Celsius on a Thursday afternoon, and Mrs Gupta is out on the streets of New Delhi protesting. She usually buys her weekly stock of vegetables at this time. So, what drove this homemaker to turn protestor?

    "My husband works as an adminstrator and earns around $500 a month. We have three children and going by the way his salary is, we have to save every rupee to put them through college," she says.

    "Prices are increasing but our standard of living isn't. I want our government to listen to our demands."

    It's a common worry among other middle-class Indians. The economy is at its lowest ebb in years, and the standard of living is not matching people's aspirations. It is clearly something many haven't prepared for.

    'The Indian dream'

    Since the 1990's when India's economy opened up from the shackles of state control, it's been in the headlines for doing (almost) everything economically right.

    Double-digit growth figures, rising income levels and being a darling with global investors was what the Indian growth story was all about. So, instead of waiting for rich relatives to visit from abroad, many Indians could now afford to buy fridges, microwaves and, yes, even imported chocolate in their own country.

    This argument, of course, excludes millions of others who still live on the barest of essentials. India's burgeoning middle class, however, now had a shot at finally aspiring to the 'Indian dream'. A dream which involved good jobs, better salaries and a college education for their kids.

    That dream is now collapsing.

    The Indian rupee has fallen to its worst levels, dropping its value by 25 per cent against the US dollar in less than a year. The latest GDP figures released on Thursday show that growth has slowed to 5.3 per cent, much less than a government forecast of 6.9 per cent. Plus, India's trade deficit has widened to $180bn from a projected $160bn.

    "Lower GDP growth means lower economic activity. Lower economic activity means that the incomes of people would be less than when the economy was at eight to nine per cent," Sunil Sinha, an economist from CRISIL India, told Al Jazeera.

    "Similarly it will also impact the business as the topline of businesses would not be able to grow at the same base as when the economy was growing at eight to nine per cent."

    In a nutshell, that's not good news. Fewer jobs will be created, salaries won't increase and because of a heavier import bill, domestic inflation will also rise.

    So people like Mamata will have to learn to dream less. She works as a security guard in one of central Delhi's posh buildings and tells me how she's being affected by the current crisis.

    "Everything is becoming more expensive. Petrol, cooking gas, even essentials like milk and yoghurt," she says. "I asked my bosses for a raise but they said they can't even think about it for another year."

    Her dream to send her daughter to a good college may now be lost, if her savings don't match up with what she spends.

    Austere times for the affluent

    It's not just India's middle class who are tightening their belts. These are also austere times for the affluent.

    Rishi Malhotra owns a spark plug manufacturing factory in the suburb of Noida. His factory's annual turnover is around $20m. The falling rupee, however, has meant that the cost of importing goods has shot up.

    "We were always told that India's growth would never come down to less than nine per cent," he says. 

    "We survived the global meltdown and thought we would do much better than the rest of the world.

    "But the government hasn't infused us with enough confidence. My costs have gone up mainly because the currency has been fluctuating wildly," he says.

    So, to stabilise the economy, the government last week decided to raise petrol prices. Petrol is heavily subsidised in India and this subsidy is one of the biggest drains on the country's budget.

    The domino effect of that decision has been Thursday's strike. And that's why Gupta says she's going to fight. Even if it means sweating it out in the blistering heat of an Indian summer.



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