We the people, more loyal than the king
What Mr Modi had wondered, on his Mann ki Baat programme, was what might happen if we refrained from using petrol or diesel one day of the week. Photograph: (Others)
Mr. Modi was musing on Mann ki Baat, his radio show, on March 26.
If we follow traffic rules, if we discharge our (I presume civic) duties, we will realise our dream of “New India”, he said.
“New India” is the dream promised us by Mr. Modi, a happy place in the future full of “achche din”.
I refuse to fault Mr. Modi.
We do desperately need to follow traffic rules. India has the second-highest number of road accident deaths in the world (238,562 in 2013 according to the World Health Organisation) after China (261,367).
And littering is a problem.
People really should listen to Mr. Modi on both fronts. (I don’t think they have.)
What we did listen to was the next thing Mr. Modi said, and which seems to have had unintended consequences.
What if we did not use petrol or diesel one day of the week, Mr. Modi said.
I, again, refuse to fault Mr. Modi, for that too is a wonderful idea.
We do need to conserve fossil fuels. They’re a finite resource.
They’re also polluting – if you live in Delhi like I do, you only have to breathe the winter air – so the less we use the better, and it would actually be lovely to get at least some cars off our roads.
Mr. Modi’s suggestion would also make us fitter. “Indians have a problem with abdominal obesity,” I remember my doctor telling me a few years ago.
If you don’t take the car to work or to buy the groceries, you’d have to walk or cycle.
That I presume is what Mr. Modi meant.
But no, as many as eight Indian states have got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
A Press Trust of India report from April 19 says fuel stations in eight Indian states and union territories will be shut on Sundays, beginning May 14. The states and Union Territories are Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Haryana.
Blanket bans do not work. We know this from years of empirical evidence and watching Munnabhai MBBS – which tells us that people 'tank up' on October 1 because they know the following day is a dry day
The PTI report quoted a Mr. Suresh Kumar, an executive committee member of the consortium of Indian petroleum dealers, as saying: "We had planned to shut our outlets on Sundays a few years back. But oil marketing companies had then requested us to reconsider our decision. Now we have decided to shut the outlets on Sundays."
The PTI story went on to report Mr. Kumar as saying his association was heeding Mr. Modi’s call.
But that makes no sense. And it feels like Mr. Kumar and his consortium are being more loyal than the king.
Imagine if your local godman told you not to eat meat on Tuesdays.
The idea in itself might not be terrible. It’s not a bad thing to cut down on meat as you get older. I’ve tried it too.
But that certainly does not mean I should go around shuttering every meat shop in my neighbourhood every Tuesday, and for the duration of the navratras. No matter what the majority (of the) community in my area should think on the matter.
But Mr. Kumar and his ilk have gone and done exactly that.
Well, and things get a little circular here, they were heeding Mr. Modi’s call.
But Mr. Modi was not asking for fuel stations to be shuttered. He was exhorting people to not use petrol or diesel one day of the week. He was not asking for a blanket shutdown of all petrol pumps one day of the week.
How did we come to this? This blind following of our elected leader like he were some sort of fascist dictator?
The Oxford dictionary tells me: “Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.”
No. That can’t be it. That certainly does not sound like the India of today. Does it?
And anyway, what purpose would the shutting down of fuel stations serve? Would it stop anybody from using their cars on Sunday?
No. People would just make certain they tanked up on Saturday.
We know this from years of empirical evidence and watching Munnabhai MBBS – which tells us that people “tank up” on October 1 because they know the following day is a dry day.
Blanket bans do not work. We’ve seen it with marijuana, which the government outlawed in 1985. And what happened? The people selling cannabis all moved to selling hard drugs – the returns were higher, the prison terms similar since marijuana was now illegal – which meant their customers moved too.
And we’ve seen it with prohibition in Bihar – where doctors are now reporting an increase in drug use.
Mr. Modi may not like this example, but I remember asking the current deputy chief minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia what might explain – this was during the heyday of the India Against Corruption movement – Arvind Kejriwal’s popularity. How was he able to get so many people to turn out for him?
Mr. Sisodia told me that “Arvind does not believe in asking the people for anything. He believes you have to give them an idea so powerful, that they have no choice but to follow it.”
That, Mr. Modi and Mr. Kumar, would be a better way to go.
Although, to be honest, Mr. Modi was trying something similar this time. It’s his listeners who messed it up for him.