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Creating Bapu’s Ram Rajya: How India Can Monetise Its Public Holidays  

Mahatma Gandhi. (Hulton Archive/GettyImages)
Snapshot
  • Like many other things, holidays are a resource. But we need to learn how to use it.

    Unlike many other resources though, holidays are win-win for everybody. Who doesn’t want more vacations, more gifts and more fun?!

This Wednesday is 2 October, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. A national holiday. You can already guess what many office workers would be thinking: what use is a midweek holiday, such as one that falls on a Wednesday?

Maybe you are one of these office workers. Maybe you wished that Gandhi Jayanti this year would fall on a Monday or Friday. Well, what can you do?

Except, there is more to this than mild disappointment.  Consider this: if Gandhi Jayanti had been part of a long weekend, people could have made plans. Perhaps they would have gone out of the city, spent a couple of nights at a hotel or at an adventure resort. They could have planned family occasions, gone out to meet friends or on a shopping trip.

All of this would have generated tremendous amounts of economic activity. Sadly, most people are likely to spend the midweek holiday on their couch at home.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the contemporary culture in the United States, famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior (MLK) occupies a position very similar to Mahatma Gandhi in India. MLK was born on Jan 15, but the Federal Holiday marking his birthday is rarely ever celebrated on that day. In a pragmatic choice, the US government observes a holiday on the third Monday of January instead.

As a result, MLK Day is always part of a long weekend every year. People plan ahead for travel and festivities. Businesses have special discounts to bring in customers. The holiday acts as a stimulus for the economy.

The same goes for George Washington’s birthday, which is celebrated on the third Monday of February, even though Washington was born on Feb 22. Similarly, the first Monday of September is observed as Labor Day.

We could easily do the same. Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday could easily be observed every year on say the first Monday of October. It’s a simple change that would make businesses grow.

The most striking of all American holidays is Thanksgiving, the annual ritual where people gather with their entire family to celebrate all the wonderful things in their life. It’s observed on the fourth Thursday of November.

Everyone eats Thanksgiving “dinner” around early afternoon! Why? The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year! All stores open with big discounts at 5am.

People eat “dinner” on Thursday afternoon, go to sleep early and wake up so that they can form long lines outside stores by 4 or 5am the next morning! Isn’t it amazing how a cultural tradition can be used effectively as an engine for the economy?

We in India can easily introduce elements into our laws and our culture to effectively monetize our holidays. We already have the perfect “festival season” between Durga Puja and Deepawali. We already know the economic significance of this period. Our aim should be to maximize it.

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How? The period between Durga Puja and Deepawali is a little over 3 weeks. Why not designate say a 14 day continuous period of public holidays during this time? Can you imagine the kind of wonders that a “National Vacation Time” would do for our economy?

Of course, there is the question of lost productivity. Simple. You can get rid of a few Saturday and Sunday holidays in a couple of weeks before the period.

That’s exactly what the Chinese did, starting 2014. The “Spring Festival” (Chinese New Year) is a tradition that is thousands of years old, much like in our heritage. It happens sometime in February this year. The Chinese government created one single seven-day-long Monday-to-Sunday period to celebrate the Spring Festival.

In fact, starting tomorrow 1 October, the Chinese will celebrate their National Day. The “National Day” is also seven days long (not kidding). It’s seven continuous days of public holidays, which again is a bonanza for every retail business in China.

It is not just about days of the week and government action. We could introduce elements into our culture itself that stimulate the economy. For this, we could make gift-giving during Durga Puja or Deepawali into a binding social obligation.

People not just buying new things for themselves, but gifts for almost every person they know. In the West, the element of gift-giving as an integral part of Christmas was introduced into the culture rather recently (in historical terms). We could do the same with Deepawali.

It really takes just one generation for something to become a tradition. Like Americans eating early dinner on Thanksgiving because the next day has been branded as Black Friday — the biggest shopping day of the year.

And finally, we could just “create” new holidays. Or shopping days, at the very least.

Would you believe that in 1993 four male students at Nanjing University came up with the idea of celebrating November 11 (i.e., 11/11 or 4 singles) as a day to celebrate single people? I am serious.

Today, “Singles Day” is the biggest shopping day in the world, with sales of $30 billion last year. On just one day.

Like many other things, holidays are a resource. But we need to learn how to use it. Unlike many other resources though, holidays are win-win for everybody. Who doesn’t want more vacations, more gifts and more fun?!

This article first appeared on the author's blog and can be read here. It is published here with the author’s permission.

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