Enough has been written by several economists and many more Google-economists on the technicalities of the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes. However, the information from the government and its agencies on the quantum of unaccounted-for money in the form of cash in the country, counterfeit currency, and the the texture of India’s cash-dependent economy (most of it legal) that sustains livelihoods indicates that demonetisation was an awful way to deal with the black economy.
The move, announced on November 8, has done little to address its nature or negate the generation of black money in the future, a point that many have raised. A few economists and columnists on the other side of the debate have argued that in the long term, this will prove beneficial (some qualify that it will be successful only if accompanied by other measures). Still others think it will be years before we see its impact.
But can we really celebrate a small increase in the Gross Domestic Product (which, by itself, is a misguided way of judging betterment in people’s living) when we are trampling upon the lives of those who already have so little ? Let us at least have the decency to accept that this is what is happening across this country. We owe the voiceless this honesty. They are disconnected from this social-media driven self-serving euphoria. But barring our condescending, pitiful help to those who work at our homes and offices, we, the empowered, do not seem to care.
If we are willing to go beyond our own safe zones, it will be clear that this disorganised and chaotic demonetisation initiative has caused unimaginable harm to those at the lowest ebb of society’s economic and social hierarchy. The daily and weekly wage worker has been hit hard, the landless farmer left helpless just before the winter sowing season, migrant labourers left in the lurch and the small-scale industrialist unable to cope.
To get the purported wads of cash stored away under mattresses, as the old-school imagery about black money goes, should the wrinkled notes that the poor manage to keep under their mats be jeopardised ?
Most disturbing has been the insensitivity of the leader of this nation – the prime minister Narendra Modi. His well-established middle-class and corporate constituency is once again preening about a strong, decisive, authoritative, fearless leader.
His tone and choice of words have just stopped short of dismissing the trials and tribulations of the needy. He has talked about “ temporary hardships”, suggesting that his remedies are tough to take, like some bitter medicine, and the more bitter they are, the faster and better their effect. The disease, of course, is black money, corruption and terrorism.
But even if I was to believe that demonetisation is the best answer to the question of black money, how did Narendra Modi not ensure that in its implementation, the economically oppressed were cushioned from its effects?
Now, on an everyday basis, much like the ever-changing stories in a newspaper, the Government and the Reserve Bank of India have been announcing alterations, new proposals and exceptions. Do they seriously expect the poor to keep track ? A prime minister who has known hard days, growing up as the son of a tea-seller and coming from humble circumstances, cannot but see that his decision has caused not just temporary hardships but an erosion of the daily earnings of countless Indians and the tiny amounts they have saved up for that one rainy day.
These are honest, hardworking people, not the few who have loads of black money in cash. As a citizen of this country, I have seen the prime minister turn everything to himself, at the same time flexing his muscles to display his unrelenting machismo. For all those who thought that they had elected a person who belonged to the real India not to Lutyens’ insular New Delhi, the past two weeks have been a reality check.
We of the urban lower and upper middle-class, despite grumblings and mumblings about standing in queues, have followed his lead to a tee. We have hailed and rejoiced in this sudden, covert operation as the greatest action since independence. The poverty-stricken Indian, many who have no identity cards, are uneducated, live far away from ATMs and banks and are intimidated by the organised financial sector have not received their wages, perhaps irretrievably lost their savings kept with private bankers and, when standing in line to convert money, have also lost that day’s pay. And how callously we have accepted the theory that this is a mere inconvenience, and temporary one at that!
This is the arrogance of fake morality practiced by the same community that does not bat an eyelid before bribing a policeman or a low-level clerk at a government office, using a tout to get their driving licences renewed, or sliding cash under a registrar’s table. You can be rest assured that we will continue these practices, only to claim helplessness, blaming it, as always, on the system.
These days we have also heard many stories of the ingenuity of people who have hoarded cash illegally. From what I gather, chartered accounts, bankers and private bankers have been offering many innovative methods of converting or legitimising stashed cash, with some bank managers also party to these operations.The sheer ugliness of the hoarders who even in this situation refuse to give up a percentage of their ill-gotten wealth as tax is abhorrent. The truth is, these people will get away, recover and continue to flourish unless the generation of all kinds of black money is challenged.
If anyone seriously believes that certain interests close to the decision-making process would not have taken care of their own cash resources before this nocturnal operation, they are living in a dream. Demonetisation is a convincing facade of financial morality from a party that, no less than other parties, refuses to declare its own financial sources – a behavior that links almost every political outfit in this country like clawed crabs. And in this play, the brazen, unapologetic partner is the suit-clad corporate honcho. They are happy today giving out gyan, completely insulated from the governments misdirected whipping stick. What a group of bed-fellows!
We, the voices of this country that have an audience, respond spontaneously tothe sacrifices of people on the frontline at our borders, but hold back empathy for the silent sufferings, including deaths, caused by what is presented as a fiscal policy, taunting the hinterland of daily life. Worse, we even downplay and discredit reports of those sufferings. Today, violations of civil liberties and human rights are seen as patriotic. And the suffering caused to the poor due to a policy that in one stroke disfigures millions of livelihoods is celebrated. We have become an unthinking, uncaring and therefore, a violent lot in mind and action and it worries me that we do not seem to even notice this darkness in our hearts.