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Lessons from the Paris riots

India, and every other country facing agrarian unrest, would do well to take note of events in France

editorials Updated: Dec 04, 2018 07:56 IST
A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask makes the victory sign near a burning barricade during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs, on December 1, 2018 in Paris. (AFP)

Paris is burning, and everyone should be worried. Violent protests by the gilets jaunes, or yellow jackets, in Paris over the weekend should set alarm bells ringing everywhere. Some of the protestors sported the Anonymous mask made famous by the Occupy protests, and modelled after the one worn by the protagonist in Alan Moore’s graphic novel, V for Vendetta, and which itself was a stylised rendition of Guy Fawkes’ face. The ostensible reason for the protests, simmering for some time, was anger over green taxes and high fuel prices, and although the latter came down by the time of the outbreak last weekend, people are still unhappy with the lack of jobs, the failure of local administration to provide basic services in the French hinterland, and rising prices.

That this happened in France, the most socialist of all First World countries, is telling. It was inevitable, though. Since the financial crisis of 2008, it has become evident that the current model of global business and trade is flawed. Indeed, leaders of the world’s most powerful nations admitted as much at the recent G-20 summit at Buenos Aires. Over the past decade, real incomes have declined across many countries, and even in those countries that do not have an unemployment problem, there are significant numbers of underemployed (simplistically explained as PhDs flipping burgers). The result is a desire for change — the election of Donald Trump in the US and Brexit are both manifestations of this. The result is a wave of protectionism around the globe that threatens global trade. And the result is anger of the sort seen in Paris over the weekend.

India isn’t wholly immune to a similar phenomenon. Sure, the economy has continued to expand over the past decade and incomes continue to increase, but farmers in many parts of the country are in the grip of an agrarian crisis — there have been at least four large protests by farmers in the past six months — and not enough jobs are being created (India needs 10-12 million new ones a year). And according to a recent report by Credit Suisse, the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality in a country, has gone up in India, from 81.3% in 2013 to 85.4% in 2018 (a coefficient of 100% means perfect inequality and 0%, perfect equality). Which is probably why India, and every other country, would do well to take note of events in Paris.

First Published: Dec 04, 2018 07:56 IST