Amitabh Bachchan’s 753rd tweet—the superstar carefully numbers his social media activity—was a somewhat unfunny joke on rising inflation. Fed up with rising petrol prices, a Mumbaikar goes to a petrol pump to buy “two to four rupees” of petrol in order to “spray on his car” in order to “burn it.” Clearly, it was unviable for a middle-class Indian to now even own a car.
This was in 2012—a time when jokes around the price of petrol were so popular they almost made up their own humour genre in India. This was also a time when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was tottering. And as it soon learnt, there was little more damaging politically than humour. The widespread mocking of fuel prices served to create a middle-class “common sense” that the UPA was a time of exceptional misrule and corruption.
Since then, oil prices have skyrocketed, going up approximately by a quarter. This week they even crossed the psychological barrier of Rs100 ($1.38) per litre in some cities.
Ironically, unlike the torrent of petrol price jokes in 2012 and 2013, there was little this time even though the prices were not only much higher, they were far more due to the government’s actions. While taxes and duties comprised only 49% of retail petrol price under the UPA, under Modi that figure stands at 67%, as per an analysis by Mint.
This isn’t the only instance of the middle-class getting squeezed with little political repercussions. For some time now, the Reserve Bank of India has kept interest rates low, in a bid to kickstart the sputtering Indian economy. While this policy helps large corporations access easy credit, it grievously impacts small savers. For example, the rate for a State Bank of India fixed deposit between five and 10 years stands today at only 5.4%. This is