There are two kinds of auctions. The first is when you’re going bankrupt and decide to do a distress sale where you sell off all your assets and follow it up with a yard sale getting rid of luxuries that you don’t need. The second kind of auction is a whole different ball game, which tests your brand value even as you raise funds for a certain cause.
This study in contrast is exactly what has played out between India and Pakistan these past few years. A desperate and cash-strapped Pakistan has had to auction everything, from luxury cars to buffaloes, in order to raise cash to stave off the desperate debt crisis and cash shortage the government faces. The latest item to go off the block is apparently a watch gifted to PM Imran Khan worth $1 million if the Opposition parties’ charges are to be believed. Not so long ago, there were reports that the Pakistan PM’s official residence has been put up for rent.
Pakistan’s problem has always been one of over-consumption by the elites including its ravenous military and then beggaring its people to pick up the tab.
What else can explain the decision to auction off eight buffaloes for Rs 23 lakh! These buffaloes were kept at the Prime Minister’s residence and acquired by Nawaz Sharif [Khan’s predecessor] for his “gastronomic requirements”. Their market value was just about Rs 1.2 lakh but they sold for Rs 4-6 lakh because of the “sentimental value” attached to buying the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s personal buffaloes.
Other items put up for sale included 102 luxury cars including bullet-proof vehicles and four helicopters reserved for the use of the Pakistani cabinet. In many ways, this highlights the economic situation Pakistan is in today where every single penny counts, and yet there is enough money in Pakistan for individuals to be buying used goods at several times their value for sentimental reasons. And let’s not forget that a former foreign minister of Pakistan famous for toting Birkin bags worth several lakhs of rupees paid tax totalling less than Rs 10,000 for a year.
The existing military-business system [milbus] is a standalone academic study in full-fledged corruption by state elites. If Pakistan’s military expenditure alone isn’t ruinous based on its perceived phantoms of an existential threat to keep a corrupt and discredited military in power, to top it, that same military also demands the charade of running “legitimate businesses” which never make a profit, and benefit from monopoly situations to give the impression that the ex-military owner is actually a “respectable businessman”.
The sad part in all of this is, that the wealth and income of the so-called respectable ex-military Pakistani businessman is actually venal extortion from the poorest Pakistanis.
Modi's brand power
Now contrast this with India where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s selling of mirror tokens and memorabilia he received during his days as chief minister of Gujarat brought in nearly Rs 90 crore. The money was donated to girl child education fund.
Recently, in an e-auction, Olympian Neeraj Chopra’s javelin went for Rs 1.5 crore while significant sums were procured for other such sports memorabilia, busts of Sardar Patel, as well as an angavastra autographed by the Indian Paralympic team that fetched Rs 1 crore. All of this money was donated to the Namami Gange project.
None of this reeks of desperation despite the hit the economy took because of COVID and its disastrous after-effects. Far from it, the auction only highlighted the immense brand power of Narendra Modi, India, India’s sporting icons, and India’s immense pride in its Paralympians, demonstrated by the formidable brand power they brought to bear in the auction. This was a demonstration of a strong and self-confident India that celebrates its achievers and is willing to spend money on things that matter morally rather than essentials that are required desperately across the border.
All up, this is a reminder that the shameless cannot be shamed even when they are selling the family silver, while the great and goodwill continue to remain great and good because they focus on their people both in times of plenty and when the going gets tough.
Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.