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Worries that spoil the sleep of rich Indians
March 9, 2014, 12:12 pm

Class Warfare: Many years ago, a rich banker said that whenever people at traffic signals tap the windows of his car, he wonders whether the thin-legged ones forever outside the windows would one day not just tap the car window, but smash it with a brick. India’s wealthy are grateful for the karmic forbearance that tradition has endowed the poor with. The poor accept their lot. They do not revolt. And they most certainly do not smash the windows of air-conditioned cars. Nevertheless, the rich do worry about the prospects of violent class warfare.

The presence of so many poor exist among so few rich, is a clear indication that the rich survive and perhaps succeed, in large measure because the poor permit them to do so. Class warfare has not descended upon us till now. But the past is not a good predictor of the future and the rich can only constantly hope that the poor will not turn discourteous in the years to come.

Foreign Exchange Shortages: The rich worries about incipient foreign exchange controls. We could revert to the sixties and seventies. In which case, we would not be able to take vacations abroad, or not take them as easily as we do. Our credit cards would no longer be accepted in posh restaurants overseas because they would go back to the descriptors of a pre-1991 era: “Valid only in India and Nepal”; we would have to go back in time and become the only affluent tourists who paid with Travelers Cheques or with dollar bills acquired surreptitiously.

The rich worry about Import Controls. Instead of buying legitimate bottles of Teachers, Black Dog and even Black Label in proper shops, we may have to go back to patronizing the bootlegger who promised you that his stuff was not adulterated, but genuinely stolen from genuine duty-free shops. And horror of horrors, we may have to go back to stitching our clothes in Lal Imli or Binny fabrics instead of in Dormeuil or Italian worsteds.

But these consumption worries pale into insignificance when we start thinking of our children. It is a universally acknowledged that whatever we may or may not have done in the distant past, none of our progeny can or will make it past the entrance exams for IITs and IIMs. Where will our kids go if RBI would suddenly stop us from paying their fees to foreign universities? How can we live with the resultant social stigma?

Roads, traffic jams and garbage piles: The rich of India have effectively seceded from the realm of public utility services. We get our own water from tankers; we have our own security guards, who may be corpulent and ineffective, but who are from the private firms we like; we have our own diesel generator sets generating our own electricity; we send our children abroad to study; we go to ‘super-specialty’ private hospitals; we live in lovely gated communities with fancy Hellenic or Iberian names.

In short, for all practical purposes, we do not live in India and we do not care about public services. But tarry a minute. We still need public roads which we have to navigate in order to get to work and of course to the airport. And these roads are hellish. We have chauffeurs and we can use our I-pads as we sit in backseats of our cars. But we just hate the endless delays. That is why in all the cocktail parties of the rich, the conversation inevitably and inexorably gets to the topic of bad roads and impossible traffic.

Unpredictable Indian State: For decades now, there has been an unwritten rule, that whenever the rich collided with the denizens of the Indian state — the Police Inspector, the Income Tax Officer, the Municipal Registrar — there never was any problem which a couple of phone calls could not fix. There was always someone who knew someone who knew somebody who could and would intervene to call off the hounds of the government.

The unpredictable exceptions to the rule have always been the ones to worry about. If a Sanjay Gandhi or a V.P. Singh had you in the crosshairs of his rifle, then of course help was difficult, if not impossible. Your office would be raided, your home would be searched and to add insult to injury, the offices and homes of the persons who worked in your company would also not be spared.

You and I are merely rich. Think of what has happened in the recent past to the super-super rich. FIRs are being considered by the distraught CBI against a Birla while a wannabe new political outfit actually files an FIR against an Ambani; a Tata has to ask the Supreme Court to suppress publication of private conversations; a Subroto Roy is served with a warrant of arrest by the same Supreme Court. Clearly civilization as we know it is coming to an end.

Anarchic elements are joining with the confused and incompetent Indian state to start taking pot-shots at the super-super-rich.

And if the super-super ones can be harassed, who are we, the merely rich to believe that we are exempt or protected? Methinks, there is something distinctly rotten in the state of Bharat.
I know that India’s wealthy have begun to acquire insurance not only by investing overseas, but by sending a son to Singapore, a daughter to Dubai and so on. Perhaps this trend is likely to accelerate in the days to come.

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