In his recently released book Breakout Nations, economist-author Ruchir Sharma writes that to acquire information on the world’s emerging economies and their long-term growth prospects, he likes to go beyond graphs, charts and power-point presentations, a portfolio manager’s staple diet. Mr Sharma spends a lot of time travelling around in these emerging economies, soaking in the atmosphere and informal observations about them. So here’s something that Mr Sharma can add to his kitty of informal observations for future use: to understand where the Indian economy is going, it’s a good idea to keep an eye not only on Dalal Street but also on the donation boxes of the country’s richest temples.
If you do so, as one of our colleagues found out recently, you would not need the prime minister or the Planning Commission chief to tell you the hard truth: the economy is in reverse gear. From Tirupati to Siddhivinayak, there has been a 10-20% drop in gold donations in every big temple. Instead, the devotees are trying to keep the lords happy by paying cash. The change in offerings is understandable, considering gold prices have done an Usain Bolt in the last one year: the cost of 10 gm gold has shot up from R21,000 (April 2011) to R29,000 this April — a neat 38% jump.
There was a time when devotees would donate extra even during tough times to ensure a better patch in the future. But now, it seems, people trust their banks and mutual funds more than the gods to tide over difficult times.