As taxpayers, we expect the government to take care of us when things go wrong. Good, trustworthy governments do that. They offer immediate tax relief to citizens and companies, especially small and medium-sized ones that are the first to be hurt. They offer free medical tests and treatment in times of pandemics. They offer money, actual cash – not notional benefits – to those who are the most vulnerable. Job losses are compensated. Pensioners are looked after. Food and rations are freely given out so that no one goes hungry. Efforts are made to continue all services ordinary citizens cannot do without.
In short, the State plays the role of protector, benefactor, caregiver. That is why, when things are normal, we pay taxes – often punishingly high taxes, double taxes, triple taxes, direct and indirect taxes, other duties and cess as well as sin taxes (as in the case of alcohol and tobacco products) or unexplained taxes (as in the case of petrol and diesel, where we pay more than citizens of any other country). There are a lot of other stuff we pay the government when we buy expensive cars or stay in five-star hotels or eat in fine dining places. That is taken as a given because we believe that those who can afford to live well in a poor country like ours must pay for that privilege. Fine. But then, why curse socialism? Why abuse communists? Why talk about reforms that will open up the economy and incentivise those who seek entrepreneurial opportunities, not jobs? If you want to punish success, if you want to punish those who create wealth, if you want to punish those who make and spend money – which moves the wheels of our economy — then stop pretending to be a free economy. Go back and reclaim that stupid inspector raj that had made us one of the world’s most controlled and corrupt economies, where everyone extorted the other. What happened to the promises made six years ago?
Look carefully. The system is exactly where it was. Yes, digitisation may have corrected a few anomalies but that has impacted only the chattering classes. More people are paying taxes, yes. But where is that extra tax money going? Why can’t we use them now when people are so desperate?
Showpiece government schemes cannot solve their problems. What is required is comprehension. Serious comprehension of people’s needs and finding solutions, piece by piece. That’s not happening.
All the tall leaders are MIA. Bureaucratese cannot replace real action. That is obvious today, when we hear so much about the wonderful things the government is doing at the macro level – spending lakhs of crores – but on the ground, nothing is showing.
What makes me proud, however, is the massive citizenship efforts I see. It’s the tax paying public – not the tax collecting government – who can be seen doing all the hard work, be it for hungry migrants walking hundreds of miles to get home to their villages or the desperate urban poor whose numbers have hugely multiplied as their means of livelihood have shrunk. The medical frat is doing amazing work even as the hospitals are bursting at their seams. The lockdown is fine for those who can afford to work from home. But what about those who had lived off the bustling streets. Magazine vendors at the traffic lights; taxi drivers; small shopkeepers; the young flower girls; tiny illegal food stalls that kept hunger at bay for the poor; dhobis; dabbawallas; vegetable vendors; noisy fishmongers; courier boys running around, making deliveries; auto rickshaw drivers; porters at the railway stations; the flautist who made music all day and barely got by selling a flute or two; the Irani baker; second hand booksellers on the footpath; philately shops eking out an existence from faded stamps and old British era coins; professional dog walkers; Parsi bone-setters; pavement stalls on Colaba causeway peddling kolhapuri chappals and worn jeans. They are all waiting for a miracle. They know no government help will ever reach them.
Only you and I can save them. And, as usual, the common man has risen to the task. Rations are reaching orphanages and old people’s homes. People are paying domestic staff even when they cannot come to work. Others are digging into their savings to help neighbours. And as the marathon men trudge home to their villages, at almost every stop they are finding someone ready to feed them, offer them a place to wash up before they start to walk again. While young activists are running around, feeding street animals. This is the miracle that is India.
Meanwhile, the government is busy collecting money to fight the pandemic. Why do we need more money? World oil prices have dropped to an all-time low and India is saving billions of dollars right now. What is the need to raise more money from us citizens in times like this when we keep paying more and more taxes every year – and no, there has been no relief during this pandemic either.