Ranjona Banerji: What is demonetisation after all?
Although demonetisation was aimed at tackling counterfeit currency, the focus has now shifted to make India move towards digitised cash
A shopkeeper holds up a cake prepared on the theme of demonetisation on Christmas eve in Siliguri. Pic/AFP
If 2016 began with terrorists from Pakistan running amok and seemingly unchallenged through an Indian Air Force Station at Pathankot, it has ended with the Indian government launching an attack on the people of India on a much larger and more catastrophic scale. Indeed, everywhere you go, demonetisation is the only thing anyone talks about. And the one place you have been going to in the past month and a half has been a queue trying desperately to gain access to your own money.
Unless, of course, you are a supporter of this government and its demonic scheme. In that case, you have had cash delivered to your homes, you have parked your demonetised currency notes in the bank before November 8, you have moved hundreds of thousands of rupees from here to there and you have giggled, sang and danced your way down ATM and bank queues searching for a TV camera so that your everlasting joy is there for the world to see.
You have told the world that when people die in a bank queue from a heart attack or from exhaustion or from suffocation, that, well, everyone must die. And more importantly for such inconsiderate people who have the temerity to die instead of joyously suffering through Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand scheme, how much did they care about soldiers dying at India’s borders? Obviously nothing and, in fact, no death in India matters at all in anyway except that of soldiers dying at the borders. All other deaths are deserved, karma, their time had come, heart conditions, life in general, death in itself. Involuntary dying is now an extreme act of anti-nationalism, devised only to demean both soldiers at the border and the prime minister.
Oddly, as November turned into December and the government changed the rules over and over again, the anti-national Indian has become louder. It’s not just evil liberals and unmentionable writers, artists, thinkers, left-wing Unpatriots, the disgusting media and all the usual suspects who are angry with the government and laughing at the prime minister’s excuses. It is, in sheer desperation, Every Man and Every Woman and what a change that is from May 2014, when to laugh at Modi was to be cursed for seven generations.
The lies of the government remain larger than life. The problems have shown no sign of abating. The prime minister’s last radio broadcast remained a bucket-full of platitudes. It accepted problems but then presented an excuse on his government’s flip-flops (responding to people’s needs apparently) without offering even one solution.
In a desperate need for validation, municipal elections are being touted as proof of the people’s love for demonetisation. And yet, the incompetence of the government cannot possibly be excused by local polls, unless you are lacking in common sense or have completely disassociated yourself from reality.
The second seems the most likely explanation. From the prime minister downwards, we hear about beggars who have point of begging card swipe machines, the great success of the poor discovering the immense value of a R100 note, the rush for people to get mobile wallets as brownie points for the government, regardless of whether most Indians have mobile phones or not, and finally cheering the opening of several bogus bank accounts even as genuine account holders are harassed.
At the end of 2016, we still don’t know why this demonetisation exercise was done and that is the greatest act of chicanery played on the Indian public since The Emergency. The black money reasoning (some humbug detours towards terrorism and counterfeit currency having fallen flat) has been replaced now with an urgent need to move India to digitised cash. In which case, the secrecy makes little or no sense. Twists and turns by the government and the RBI on rules have only given wriggle room to the corrupt.
Sadly for the supporters of this government and the ruling party, they elected it to power, placing all its trust in the magical and miraculous powers of Narendra Modi alone. And what they have got in return is clear evidence that this government, and perhaps Modi too, does not trust the people of India even one little iota.
What a way to go into 2017! No, I’m not having a party.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to email@example.com