Is Diwali, the festival of lights dying?

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New Delhi, Oct 30: The prevailing economic crisis resulting in dwindling incomes in the hands of individuals and the threat of terror has taken away the glow from the festival of lights, making its sparkle dimmer, mood somber and the event less boisterous.

Newspapers were able to gauge in advance that Diwali would be tame affair and they have been proved right, enhancing their credibility to make predictions. Markets wore a deserted look on Tuesday, Oct 28--the day of Diwali--more so in the posh areas of South Delhi and less in areas inhabited by the man on the street. Perhaps, rich care more for their lives as the poor man is always at a risk.

Not only were the newspapers right this time, but the chambers representing the voice of industry too predicted a gloomy Diwali.

For instance, an ASSOCHAM study pointed to this reality days ahead and stated that the gain will be that of e-shopping.

Whether, e-shopping did spiral is not yet known, but what is true is that Diwali lost its glitter.

Not too long ago, Diwali was a festival to which Indians would look forward to, when they will vent their feelings and anxieties by bursting crackers.

Many homes had just put up a few candles and in fact, some had no lighting--a phenomenon which would have been regarded as inauspicious by traditional and conservative Hindus.

Children had a problem buying crackers because only few were licensed to sell these.

Till yesteryear, there would be many shops, which would sell crackers. There were huge queues outside the licensed shops.

These restrictive measures were mandated by the police in view of the security threat from terrorist groups.

Diwali is part of the buying season, the festive mood leading to high purchases. The people buy goods in large quantities, which include clothes, ornaments including jewellery, utensils, consumer durables and gift items, to name but a few.

The general mood of the shopkeepers was that of despair, who bemoaned that the economic mess, the sliding of stock markets and the fear of terror had cast their shadows dark, even on them.

It is also an occasion when 'Laxmi', the Goddess of wealth in Hindu mythology, is worshipped to usher in prosperity.

The Goddess perhaps did not oblige the shopkeepers and did not shower her blessings on people.

Most Hindus have a deep belief that prosperity or the lack of it comes from heaven. It is for this reason that 'Havanas'--a Hindu spiritual ritual-- is performed to get rid of the curse of drought, a phenomenon too well known in India since times immemorial.

The economic slowdown also had its bearing on the corporate gift culture, which is a reminiscent of the licence--permit raj. All the talk of liberalisation and the action in this regard have not been able to obliterate this phenomenon.

But the slowdown did what liberalisation and globalisation could not do.

An ASSOCHAM study released yesterday stated that India Inc is planning to lay off 25 per cent of its workforce-- an action which can cause a political storm in a country which has no social security worth the name. Witness is the Jet Airway's decision to lay off 1,900 workers and its reversal within a few days.

Such a move will be perceived as extremely cruel by the employees who are to be given a golden handshake and their families who will suffer.

The alarming news is this that the job cuts are to be effected in the next 10 days and the sectors that will be engulfed include steel, cement, ITeS, BPOs, financial and brokerage services, construction, real estate and aviation. So that Diwali does not go sour, the corporates had planned this much earlier, but deferred the decision till Diwali, so that the most reverred event by the of Hindus is allowed to pass. It is like darkness before noon. How does it matter if night sets in earlier? The high rate of inflation prevailing for several months now has stealthily put its hand in the pockets of the ordinary person, robbing him of his money silently.

Economic theory recognises that inflation is a tax on the poor and puts money in the hands of the wealth owners.

Worst still is the fact that the price rise has been mainly in the domain of essential commodities, like vegetables, rice, wheat and pulses.

If inflation persists, the poor would be deprived even of his 'dal' and 'roti'--the staple food of Indians.

A worried and paranoid government trying to put down the fires of inflation pressed the brakes too harsh by tightening liquidity which has resulted in steep fall in industrial production, especially manufacturing, and the perception that the economy will clock less than the targeted eight per cent GDP growth in the current fiscal.

The demand side was compressed too hard as interest rates were jacked up by the pursuit of tight money policy as several sectors like the realty and auto were starved off funds.

There were no buyers for these goods as profitability shrunk, discounts too were hard to come by.

Sales slumped, buyers vanished and showrooms wore a deserted look--a reminder of what the world had witnessed in the 1930s known as the Great Depression.

And then suddenly America was in the grip of a sub-prime crisis, a misplaced case of over enthusiastic lending for purchase of dubious property.

What came as a shock to the global community was that the crisis was much deeper as news spread of corporate bankruptcy and sale of companies at low valuations.

It has become a major issue in the US election round the corner, an event which the world looks at with great interest and perhaps some awe.

The American syndrome started casting its wings wider and wider, first bringing Europe in its fold and now the entire globe is affected.

No matter what the US FED does with the interest rates, the recession refuses to budge as the global community wonders when and whether at all the crisis will ever end.

Even a relatively closed economy like India got impacted as the global liquidity crunch had its fallout in the country as Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) flew back to their home countries.

This is often known as the flight of hot money.

As the stakes of FIIs were much higher in their home countries, stock markets in India plummeted and all the big announcements by the Indian government and Central Bank of pumping liqudity failed to impress the bourses.

Stock markets are witnessing high volatility of a kind not known in their history.

There is a general lack of confidence among the retail investors and the business community.

The stock market cult has been spreading in most parts of India, perhaps pretty rapidly. The retail investors have once again burnt their fingers, putting a halt to the spread of this cult.

'Dusshera', a festival which proceeds Diwali, represents the conquest of good over evil. 'Ravana' and his two brothers were killed by Lord Rama, ending the long drawn battle between the Gods and demons.

On Diwali day, there was mass celebration in Ayodhya and other parts of Bharat as Lord Rama returned back to his kingdom after an exile of 14 years. His return is marked by the celebrations on Diwali.

Thousand of years have not been able to reduce the importance of this event, which is regarded as auspicious by the Hindus.

But unlike in India, in Bali in Indonesia 'Ravana' never dies.

This symbolises that the struggle between good and evil co-exists.

The players who enact the Ramayana wear a costume with white and black checks on them to delve home the point that the two tendencies of good and evil exist side by side in society.

The reality is more close with the manner in which Ramayana is observed in Bali. Movements in various parts of India bring about the consciousness of the evils of terrorism as it serves no end.

So also, the will on the part of business community to fight the financial and economic mess has not died.

India is known for weathering many storms. The hope is that soon it will be sunshine and noon.

UNI

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