Monday, July 04, 2016

Dateline Indore: Travel through the land of saffron poppies

Article first published in +ABPLIVE Click here

The tract from Chittaurgarh in Rajasthan to the adjoining districts of Neemuch and Mandsaur in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh is remarkably prosperous. These are few areas in the country that have ‘licensed’ cultivation of poppy. After handing over the contracted quantities to the state there is enough ‘extras’ and left-over by products (like Poshto and Doda) to be traded under the benevolent eyes of a deity – Sanwariya Seth – considered as a ‘business partner’ by the locals. Needless to add, the supplementary income exceeds the official earnings by multiples. So, Digvijaya Singh was being clever by half when he dared Shivraj Singh Chauhan to ban poppy cultivation in Madhya Pradesh.

Business here is generally insulated from economic downturns unless, of course, the crop is severely affected. Opiates are in demand both in times of depression and boom – a local associate with interest in real estate and jewellery enlightens me. Unlike neighbouring Rajasthan where  a certain degree of dissonance is palpable, Malwa is still soaked in saffron. On a visible high after the resounding success of the recent Ujjain Simhastha Kumbh, he is not worried about another term for BJP in the state or a second innings for Modi. But, as a businessman his critique of Modi Sarkar is on approach and strategy.

Modi-ji had promised to get “Kala-Dhan” from abroad – but instead his government seems more concerned about unearthing black money of the people who voted for BJP. He was upset at the real-estate business being in the doldrums stuck with high inventory and the counter-productive excise duty imposed on jewellery. The fear of the taxman had led to the flight of free-cash – the life-blood of builders . For jewellery – the one-percent tax is not an issue – but that it would force jewelers to declare transactions in “white” would be a major nuisance for the trade. He blamed such ‘impractical’ decisions on bureaucrats – whom he felt were alive to the difficulties of large industrialists but had little understanding of the problems of small businessmen and traders. A subtle replay, as it were, of the ‘suit-boot’ refrain – but the general angst at the elusive “miracles” that one saw a year ago had distinctly dissipated.

Yet – he is hopeful of the future. After three consecutive bad seasons the Rabi crops were healthy. A bumper Soya Bean harvest was in the offing. Now with predictions of a good monsoon the mood in the rural economy is looking up. Infrastructure projects are showing signs of traction and with the elections on the horizon – the state government is beginning to loosen its purse strings. Overall – the realization was beginning to set in that – while the dream of ‘Acche Din’ may have been a hyperbole – things could have been much worse and the government had managed the economy pretty well under the circumstances.

Now, cut to Indore. Meet a bunch of saffron-ites from the trading community of the city and nearby towns.  Though there was no windfall for the ‘faithful’, they can sense a certain stability and predictability in the business environment. Even though it has been a long time since Congress last ruled the state – the memories of mismanagement and corruption are yet to heal and the factional infighting between the major and minor royalties does not inspire confidence for a resurrection any time soon.

I tease them about the prices of tomatoes. That we can think of having tomatoes in summer is itself a sign of changing times, they retort. Indians are accustomed to cyclical shortages and inflation is part of progress and the people they feel are convinced about the sincerity of the government. If these crises were to happen due to “ghotala” (corruption), reckless action or negligence there would be backlash. Now they know it has happened despite the best efforts of the central government. So no one is blaming Modi.

Everyone understands, the key is growth of the economy and as long as that is ensured everything else will quietly fall in place. Meanwhile, the benefits of all the schemes launched by the Prime Minister – be it Jan Dhan Yojana or Crop Insurance will start yielding dividends and reduce dependence on doles.

Again I try to bait them on BJP’s uncertain prospects in Punjab and possible set back in Rajasthan. As they invoke the now familiar logic of the changing dynamics between state and central elections. I argue why would the same not apply to Rahul Gandhi or Kejriwal – but it only invites laughter of derision. The ‘Bhakts’ if you insist on calling them so  are convinced Modi and Amit Shah are working to a plan and 2019 will see an encore of the “Modi Magic”.  Citing Modi’s towering ratings in all recent opinion polls the say “the Man is the Message” and that is why Modi cuts through the layers and communicates directly with the masses.

And, just then Boom!! Narendra Modi comes on air to answer everything the nation wanted to know but were afraid to ask.