Our weekly explainer on economics using lessons from popular culture. In Installment 59, Do Jasoos breaks down Virtue Signalling.
Raj Kapoor along with Rajendra Kumar in this title song, Do Jasoos Kare Mehsoos, distinguishes the real from the unreal. Reality often differs from what individuals intend it to be perceived as. Often, it is dressed in the garb of virtue signalling which is dishonest.
The two actors make a plea to uncover such disingeniousness in the verse, “Har chehare pe naqaab hai, Jara socho jara samjho, Jara sambhalke rahio ji.” (Translation: Every face is masked, think a little, understand a little, be a little careful of it, dear friend)
Virtue signalling is the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue. That’s all and nothing more. It does not involve acting upon what is signalled.
The popular usage of the term is accredited to James Bartholomew. The greatest virtue signalers in our society are politicians, no matter what faction they are from. Here is one instance from Narendra Modi and another from Rahul Gandhi.
These are typical examples of signalling virtuosity and self-sacrifice for the service of the nation, to voters. Politicians repeatedly state their lack of personal incentive in obtaining and increasing their power. While the truth is that politicians are self-interested individuals like any other person and this alone is the means that motivates them to achieve their end of becoming rulers.
Virtue signalling harms citizens when done by political parties. Bharat bandhs and ‘chakka jams’ called in repeatedly by parties are tools to signal virtuosity by political parties. Each political party, when in opposition, signals their benevolence to citizens by calling a bandh against policies and outcomes of the political party in power. BJP forced Bharat bandhs on to people when the UPA was in power, just as Congress with its allies recently forced a Bharat bandh while BJP is in power.
A Bharat bandh was called by the NDA in 2012 on, not surprisingly, the same set of issues that the Congress called a bandh for on 10th September 2018. The 2012 bandh was against diesel price hike, FDI in multi-brand retail and a cap on subsidised LPG. While Congress called one against NDA citing rising fuel prices and the fall in the value of the Rupee. The hike in fuel prices appears to be the favoured reason to disrupt civic life. This is where a verse from the song, Do Jassoos, is particularly relevant:
Jab dekho hadtaale hai
Jaane kiski chaale hai…
Deewaane tufaan kare
Logon ko hairaan kare
Nehru ji ko bhool gaye
Baapu ka apmaan kare…
Apna hi ghar phoonk rahe hai
kaisa inqlaab hai
Kaun hai sachcha kaun hai jhoota
Har chehare pe naqaab hai…
Political parties by calling for bandhs shout out, “Voters, we care for you and your well being! So, we have taken the pain to march the streets, and make demands on your behalf!”
What they have actually done is shut down our shops, disrupted our transport, burnt buses, assaulted individuals, and put daily wage labourers out of jobs.
Such an action is a breach in the rule of law. No citizen of the country gave their consent to call a shutdown of the economy and their livelihoods to protest with the political party. It is the threat of violence and harm brought to citizens that cause bandhs. The decision to protest is not just against their consent, but also wrongly disguised to be on their behalf. The freedoms of citizens are taken away to fulfil the personal agenda of political parties.
Not surprisingly, the demand with each bandh is to grant the government more power and control over the economy. Fuel prices are a perennial opportunity for disrupting the nation and earning virtue points.
Governments have no control over oil prices which are dictated by the balance between the demand of and supply from oil-producing nations. The only recourse for the government, is to place subsidies to counter the rise in price and this is effectively a price control. With this action, everyone loses. The subsidy is borne by none other than taxpayers. Governments do not have any money of their own to pay for these subsidies.
In fact, the poor who either hardly make use of any transport, or resort to public transport end up cross-subsidising the rich who opt for their own private transports. The solution desired by political parties is to worsen the lives of those who already suffer to make it better for those who already prosper.
Unfortunately, it is a repetitive political tool that brings pain to citizens every time. All political parties are one and the same. Hence, jara socho, jara samajho, jara sambhalake rahio ji!