Ranjona Banerji: The hypocrisy of demonetisation
It is ironic to support the move against black money while engaging in corruption — it would’ve been entertaining if it wasn’t disappointing
A woman uses a prepaid smart card at a dairy store at Bhatt village in Ahmedabad. Pic/AFP
A month into the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the ‘minor’ inconveniences continue. People are still dying around the country, either while waiting in queues to withdraw their own money or due to lack of treatment because some hospitals did not accept the old notes. Clearly, they were not yet ‘digitised’.
A few industries have shut down, farmers are facing hurdles along the way and countless small businesses are suffering too. Many daily wage labourers returned home to their villages, and people who spent November on credit find that in December, they still do not have the requisite money to pay their bills.
The extreme incompetence of the government, in both its political and administrative wings, continues. We have repeatedly been told that new notes are being printed, but they vanish as soon as they appear. A bank employee told me yesterday that their ATMs have been shut for three days because there is not enough cash. The branch, which usually remains open till 8 pm, shut shop at 3 pm. Only self-withdrawal was allowed and that too for limited amounts. Footfalls at the main branch of a private bank have increased from 100-300 per day to over 1,000 a day.
Reports from the RBI suggest that the next cash infusion will be of Rs 50 and Rs 20 notes because people need change. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence could have told this government that Rs 2,000 notes would create more chaos, but for that, someone has to have a workable brain.
The joys of dealing with supporters of the note ban are even more enlightening. The owners of a local hardware shop I know have been proclaiming how great this move is and what a tremendous thing “Modiji” has done. But when you ask them for a bill for their products — as I did — they say, “But why do you want a bill? Then you will have to pay tax.” When I insisted on paying by cheque — it took me half an hour — they were miserable. The sheer hypocrisy of supporting a move against black money while convincing a customer to help with tax evasion would almost seem entertaining if it were not so disgusting!
The shop, needless to say, had no card swipe machines. Not all shops in Dehradun do. But the idiocy of the urban middle and upper middle classes, however, continues unabated. Foolish suggestions, like why not buy vegetables with credit cards in the villages of India, are just astounding in the lack of knowledge on display. Almost as bad as PM Modi referring to a two-year-old spoof on WhatsApp to prove beggars in India use card swipe machines.
I, for one, enjoy buying vegetables and fruits from small vendors and groceries from local shops, and not large supermarkets. You can put it down as a character flaw. None of these local shops that I have ever been to (even when I lived in Mumbai) had card swipe machines. They don’t accept cheques or use smart phones for payment. It is one thing to encourage India to go digital with payments. It is another thing to bludgeon us on the head until we keel over and die or comply.
The bogus — and frankly shamelessly opportunistic — self-righteous statements about why you cannot complain because soldiers are dying at the border have reduced, but are still made. The argument is a total insult to soldiers and to us all, not least to the people who are suffering because of this ghastly decision.
It is remarkable that since the past month, the trials and misery of the common man have continued, but the government does not care. Not even humbug lip service has been paid as the term ‘minor inconvenience’ has been repeated for every hardship from job loss to lack of medical care and even death.
It is even more remarkable that the highest court in the land has the time to decide on the National Anthem being enforced on movie goers but cannot find the time to fast track cases on the various illegalities of both demonetisation and the authoritarian lack of access to your own money. I am now awaiting the next melodramatic move to take public attention away from their misery.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org