Tracking Demonetisation

Revisiting demonetisation: In Chennai’s flower market, anger against Modi government is still fresh

Traders have reconciled to their losses but workers are still struggling to recover the wages they lost over five months.

Around noon on September 5, in the Koyambedu flower market in Chennai, two daily wage workers, C Velmurugan and A Selvaraj, stood outside a flower garland shop calling out to potential customers. It was a regular day of business with buyers thronging the market corridors. The workers were looking forward to taking home their daily wage of Rs 500. They said they were still trying hard to make up for the losses in their income on account of demonetisation.

On November 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the government’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes as part of its campaign against black money. Overnight, 86% of India’s currency had become illegal tender. As cash dried up in the hands of customers, the flower market saw a drastic drop in sales. With vendors facing losses for a stretch of five months, the daily wages of workers had plummeted to just Rs 200.

Selvaraj still bristles at the memory of the months of hardship. “Nothing has come out of demonetisation,” said the 35-year-old worker. He had not heard about an August 30 report by the Reserve Bank of India that said 99% of the demonetised currency notes had returned to banks by June 30, indicating the move had failed to dent black money reserves. But intuitively he felt the government’s decision had little benefit.

“They don’t have to kill people who live in poverty like us to catch people holding black money,” he said. “They should directly target those places where black money is being held.”

Velmurugan was even more indignant. For five months, he could barely manage enough money to send his children to school. “We would eat hardly twice a day, getting rice from the ration shop at Re 1,” he said. “We don’t need such policies, we can manage by ourselves.”

An unexpected fallout of demonetisation was that even the poor in Tamil Nadu had become familiar with the name of the prime minister. Struggling to make a living, and immersed in the Dravidian politics of the state, they ordinarily had little interest in the Central government in distant New Delhi. But after their hard-earned savings in cash had turned to wastepaper overnight, they suddenly woke up to its power. Narendra Modi’s name had become synonymous with demonetisation.

Unsurprisingly then, their anger is directed at him. “The Modi aatchi [government] is making the poor suffer,” said Selvaraj. “Nobody will vote for them.”

Velmurugan and Selvaraj at their stall in the market. Credit: Vinita Govindarajan
Velmurugan and Selvaraj at their stall in the market. Credit: Vinita Govindarajan

Wilting flowers

The Koyambedu market is one of the largest wholesale perishable goods markets in Asia, with over 3,000 licensed shops selling fruits, vegetables and flowers. Over 10,000 traders operate in the market – around three or four working out of a single shop. As many as 10,000 workers were employed on a daily basis, said V Govindaraj, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Flower Vegetable and Fruit Traders Welfare Association. The flower market alone has more than 500 shops, selling up to Rs 10 crores worth of flowers each month, he added. had visited the flower market one week after demonetisation had been announced, and once again a month later. During this period, flower-sellers found it difficult to provide change for high-denomination notes such as the new Rs 2,000 note. As they lost customers, prices of flowers and garlands in some shops fell by up to 60%. Owners of flower shops could neither pay their workers nor the farmers who supplied them with truckloads of flowers every day.

The flower-selling business is a fast-paced one dealing with perishable items. Low sales on a particular day meant tonnes of flowers went waste. In the first week after demonetisation was announced, nearly 360 tonnes of wilted flowers – roses, lilies, asters and jasmine, among them – were dumped in the Koyambedu market, reported The Times of India.

Heaps of unsold flowers at the Koyambedu market. Credit: Vinita Govindarajan
Heaps of unsold flowers at the Koyambedu market. Credit: Vinita Govindarajan

Not an equaliser

Ten months after the market saw a severe slump, the flower traders said business was back to normal. But it had been a slow recovery. “Our sales have picked up only over the past five months,” said S Ravichandran, the owner of a garland shop whom this reporter had met on both occasions.

But while labourers like Velmurugan and Selvaraj were vociferous in denouncing the scheme as a failure, the flower shop owners seemed to believe that demonetisation was a good policy move by the Modi government.

MRA Aalappan, a middle-aged flower vendor, faced losses amounting to more than Rs 1 lakh in the four months after demonetisation. From Rs 30,000, he said his shop’s monthly profits crashed to Rs 5,000. Despite that, Aalappan vociferously supported the move in December. He claimed it had affected the rich and the poor equally. “Modi’s scheme is a super scheme,” he had said. “It is a very good scheme to bring out black money. Everybody is suffering, so it is okay.”

Months later, Aalappan continues to hold a positive view of demonetisation, although he no longer thinks it was an equaliser. “I still feel it was a good move, since it was aimed at eliminating corruption,” he said. “But small-scale businessmen like us were the worst-affected. The rich managed to get their black money exchanged for white money. It was the common man who was affected.”

Even the vendors were not aware that 99% of the notes had made their way back to the banks. On August 31, the morning after the Reserve Bank report was released, there was no mention of it on the front pages of Dinamalar, Dinathanthi and Dinakaran, three leading Tamil newspapers.

Instead, Ravichandran, a shop owner, said he had read in the papers that black money worth crores had been seized by the government. “Modi’s scheme was a good scheme,” he said. “But it could have been done without affecting people like us.” Ravichandran still has to repay a loan of Rs 2 lakhs that he took by pawning his jewellery with a local moneylender, to tide over the financial crisis that demonetisation caused him. He was paying around Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 every month. “It will take us at least a year to get our jewels back,” he said.

S Ravichandran outside his garland shop. Credit: Vinita Govindarajan
S Ravichandran outside his garland shop. Credit: Vinita Govindarajan

Political prospects

Months later, the daily-wage workers at the flower market were certain that the Bharatiya Janata Party would not make any political gains in Tamil Nadu. “Here, people know only AIADMK or DMK,” said Selvaraj, referring to the two main political parties in Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Even the flower shop owners seemed uncertain about the BJP’s popularity in Tamil Nadu. When asked whether he would vote for a BJP candidate during the next state Assembly elections, given that he perceived demonetisation to be a success, Ravichandran seemed undecided. “I don’t know much about the local BJP candidates. I do not like anyone from the AIADMK or the DMK either. I think I will choose NOTA,” he said, referring to the ‘None Of The Above’ option on the voting machine that allows voters to reject all candidates.

However, at the Centre, Ravichandran wanted the Modi government to stay for one more term. “He should be given more time to implement his policies, only then we will see real changes,” he said.

When asked whether demonetisation had been worth the months of hardship he and the other small-scale businessmen had to undergo, Ravichandran simply shrugged and said it was all in the past and they had to move on. “It was a tough time that everyone had to face,” he said. “When you suffer from a stomach pain, you go to the hospital, take time to get better and then forget about it.”

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.