Politics, the cynic says, is the high art of evasion. Admittedly, some regimes and their leaders are more skilled in dodging issues of public interest than others. The Union finance minister’s remarks on rising prices are a case in point. The Opposition had been demanding a discussion on escalating prices, an issue on which the Centre, it alleged, was dragging its feet. Finally, when Nirmala Sitharaman spoke, she flattered to deceive with a speech that was remarkably shorn of a concrete vision to contain either inflation or the price pinch. Ms Sitharaman cited international events — the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict — as causal factors for the spike, something that is not exactly a secret. On the insensitive move to raise the goods and services tax on some food items — a measure that has increased the price burden on the consumer — she resorted to finger-pointing. Ms Sitharaman said that Opposition-ruled states were on the same page on the matter even though Maharashtra — it was yet to be gobbled up by the Bharatiya Janata Party — and Bengal had voiced their differences with the decision of the GST Council. Astoundingly, one BJP leader has denied that essential commodities are too hot to touch; there is also an orchestrated chorus to thank the prime minister for filling the plates of the poor with free meals. Shockingly, there was little in Ms Sitharaman’s speech on policy intervention to tackle rising unemployment, a debilitated informal sector, soaring price of crude and cooking gas, dented consumer sentiments — each of which has been borne out by numerous surveys.
This culture of stout denial has been a central facet of the Narendra Modi government. Instead of owning up to its policy failures or inviting an honest, cross-party deliberation on public welfare, this government resorts to aggressive rhetoric and faux nationalism. Among other things, Ms Sitharaman asked the Lok Sabha to be proud of the nation. Every Indian is. But can they freely say the same thing about the government? Eight years of Mr Modi’s style of governance should make it clear to the Opposition that the Parliament is no longer the chamber from which it can derive confessions or concessions from a bullish dispensation. It should now focus on the street. Scorching prices of essentials have traditionally been an effective weapon to mobilise the masses. The Opposition should rediscover the way to hone it. That is the only way to make a tone-deaf government listen to the people.