With the world’s second-fastest growing economy — yes, we are still that — taking a distinct downturn, and general elections looming over a defensive government, what’s on India’s mind?
That’s not easy to answer. In cities like Delhi and Mumbai, restaurants still run full (try getting a weekday reservation to the new Olive at Mumbai’s Race Course), and the consuming classes still throng malls.
At this newspaper, we often do dipstick surveys to gauge the country’s mood. These are indicative at best. No survey can truly reflect the aspirations and worries of 1.1 billion people.
So, this time, we are using an old Indian technique: gut feel.
Hindustan Times reporters, together boasting a reporting experience of over 100 years, fanned out across villages, towns, cities, remote tea-shops and city streets to gauge India’s mood.
We found that India’s worries are as diverse as its cultural and regional differences.
But a common thread emerged: The demon of inflation, now well beyond 12 per cent, besides economic growth, which has fallen below 8 per cent. Rising prices of essential commodities and the costlier housing loans are upsetting people regardless of their caste, creed, colour or class.
That worry is matched in intensity and impact by the threat of terrorism.
An unexpected emotional issue may stir us momentarily. Like the street battles over 100 acres of land in Jammu and Kashmir. Or, the controversy over a mythical land bridge beyond India's southern-most point.
But inflation is winning the battle for India's mind.
The nuclear deal leaves India cold. We only found an echo of it among the Santhal tribes of Jharkhand, where they are convinced the deal has something to do with their land being snatched for a nuclear power plant.
The image that people across India seem to recall most vividly is MPs waving bundles of cash. Interesting. As the TRPs show, the great Parliament sleaze show topped the saas bahu dramas that grip middle and remote India.
It’s just amusement though. It doesn’t shock anyone.
As political parties get ready to don the war paint and draw up their blueprints for electoral battles,
India is waiting for its chance. It’s best summed up by Karthiyani, a grandmother struggling to make ends meet in the cash crop growing town of Vithura in Kerala. She said: “We know how to punish them.”