They want it all and they want it now. The ability of public discourse, fuelled by the media, to hold several contradictory positions all at the same time is phenomenal. The outcry following the gas shortage crisis demands for (a) uninterrupted gas to be provided to the country’s industrial units, (b) for gas to be provided to the households and (c) for gas to be provided to the transport sector. And the cherry on top is the expectation – nay, vehement insistence – for the tariffs to remain the same as well.
If the above is an example of bounded rationality on an issue of national interest, the APCNGA’s decision to announce an indefinite strike is an example of bounded rationality in a matter of self-interest. Ordinarily, an association, union or trade group’s principal leverage comes from the threat to close shop. Here, that is exactly what the government wants in the first place. Would this be the first strike in history where, barring the scuffles with law enforcers, the government is going to be happy?
For a media dominated by journalists belonging to the urban middle-class, the insistence of providing CNG to vehicles might make sense. But if they don’t limit this insistence to public transport or, perhaps, government mandated CNG rickshaws, it is actually an elitist demand; the poor travel by public transport and the lower-middle-class by motorcycles. A CNG kit in a car is an expensive proposition. But what about the scores of working class CNG pump attendants that would lose their jobs, could be a response. Yes, a problem, but the number of people from the working class that would lose their jobs if gas-powered industrial units were to shut down would dwarf the quantum from the pumps.
Lastly, Dr Asim Hussain’s words on the issue might sound measured and sensible but it is not as if this government has been the last word on effective policy. True, the move towards CNG vehicles was not on this government’s watch but this was a crisis that could have been predicted as soon as the government took charge in 2008. Far from calling it out, the incumbents kept on issuing CNG pump licenses and made some incorrect calls on the LPG and LNG fronts as well.
The government rightly demands the media and public to respond to the crisis like grownups. It would have been helpful had it shown some maturity of its own earlier on.