17 May 2020

When the Government lowered the bar!



Could there be a company or a brand called ‘Business not as usual’? Covid-19 has made people re-think a lot of things including the way things have been done, the veracity of things taken for granted (like neoliberal economics), relationships with one another and the world at large, the untenable and indeed moronic nature of ‘development’ (as in its dominant paradigm) etc.

And so, people adjust. Necessity is the Mother of Invention and all that. Whether it all leads to a paradigm shift, it’s too soon to tell, but then again paradigms of all kinds are certainly being questioned. We can’t do business-as-usual, some people think. ‘Online’ has come to the fore in a lot of activities and businesses of course. Can’t grow vegetable and rice online, we know this, but there’s a lot ‘online’ that can help boost food production, not to mention food preservation and delivery. 

For all this, we must not forget that business-as-usual is far from being dumped. Those who have done business (as usual) and have profited are naturally loathe to change the fundamentals. They would, given constraints, tweak or even radically change operational aspects, they might move to different products and services, but it is still about profit. And, in the case of certain kinds of highly profitable ventures, they will not let go of the cash cows, they won’t kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

A few weeks ago, when curfew was temporarily lifted, people flocked to wine stores. Pictures of people flouting all protectionist protocols made the rounds. The government was deservedly censured. The government backtracked.

The industry didn’t close shop though. Profit has allure. Business cannot be buried. Or cremated. And everyone knows that liquor and cigarettes are big and powerful ‘industries.’ The magnitude of profits and power are easily understood by how tenaciously the tobacco industry fought and still fights moves to bring anti-tobacco laws or even simple regulations such as warnings or plain packaging. They can and will spend bucks because they make bucks in billions. That’s investment prompted by the desire for sustaining profits. In the long run.

And they cover all bases. Search for anti-tobacco literature online and there will be hundreds of sites which are in fact run by the tobacco industry. In other words, they get to own the discourse that counters them. Neat, isn’t it?

They use social media effectively. There are some posts by forlorn tipplers begging the government to go easy: ‘make it possible to have one drink and I will go without one for a month!’ Such things. Some of it is not innocent, though. 

Consider this meme of a woman carrying a child (yes, the play is to obtain empathy) thanking the Prime Minister for ‘saving’ her man from moonshine. ‘He now drinks only branded alcohol!’ It also pokes fun at the strategy that the alcohol and tobacco industries use, ‘illicit stuff is deadly’ (subtext: ‘smoke the branded versions, which we sell!’). 

Now consider this meme which tells the story sarcastically. A man sprawled outside a bar offering pin (merit) to the Prime Minister for being sensitive to their (the tipplers’) needs and opening the bars.  Lowering it, actually.




India has raised alcohol taxes by 70%. The logic is not only about possible violation of safety protocols, but to minimize the potential for domestic violence. There are countless studies of the impact of drinking on this issue. Of course, you will get the counter-argument: ‘those who drink, will drink; if they can’t get it from wine stores, they’ll get it from local moonshiner manufacturers (which is ‘more dangerous’ they will tell us) and that won’t stop domestic violence now, would it?’ Well, that’s a law and order issue which can be pursued relentlessly and effectively. If there’s will. If governments don’t fall into the multiple traps set for them by the ‘mainstream industry’ and its apologists.

Whatever prompted the veritable lowering of the bar, it seems clear that the government has played into the hands of vested interests, the industry as well as its political enemies who tirelessly slander the government in informal media and interpersonal networks with the sole intention of subverting the palpable perception among the general public that ‘the government is ours, it is on our side.’

It’s as though the government shot itself in the foot. No, it’s as though the government was told ‘how about shooting yourself in the foot, it will please the general public,’ and went ahead and pulled the trigger, forgetting that ‘the general public’ doesn’t exist — what exists are interest groups and a vast majority that knows alcohol and tobacco are poisonous and the relevant industries are peddlers of death.

The government was well and truly suckered. It didn’t have to be. It can do better than doing ‘business as usual.’

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   

 












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malindasenevi@gmail.com
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