Anger is the predominant emotion Sonati and I feel when we talk about demonetisation. And a sense of impotence: How does one respond to Messrs Modi, Jaitley and co.’s cavalier “at the stroke of the midnight hour” act, the consequences of which ordinary people have to bear in the name of patriotism?
Let me start by saying that I have not been personally affected by this (yet). Last week and this week (today), I went to shop in Karumandurai and managed with old 500’s, goodwill and credit. Today I even withdrew some money from our Post Office account. I haven’t stood in a bank queue yet.
And so I could say like so many people seem to be doing, “See I am honest; Be like me , Go digital and all is well.” “Blackmarketeers deserve demonetisation.”
Except that it is not blackmarketeers but MILLIONS of ordinary people who have had their lives up-ended by this; who have to stand in a queue for hours to get their own money back. This is not patriotism. This is Hell on Earth. It is as if there are a few murderers in Bombay and Delhi who have to be caught; so the entire adult population of India is being fingerprinted. Patriotism!
What of the old lady who came to Karumandurai yesterday with 4 lakhs in old and crumpled 500’s and 100’s to open a bank account and deposit the money because she didn’t have a son who would pay for her funeral feast when she is gone? Is she going to be taxed (and on the 100’s too?)?
What of Govindraj running around Salem after pawning jewellery to admit his father-in-law to a hospital; only to have them send him back home because (though they wouldn’t say that clearly) they knew that he would pay partly in old notes (which hospitals are supposed to accept).
Do not turn away from this and say this is all anecdotal: Ask anyone around you who is not of the digital classes, ask anyone who has actually stood in a queue; not once but multiple times; and they will all have stories to tell. This is affecting hundreds of millions of people. Modi Antoinette has reduced the country to queues. People in queues cannot protest.
Moreover the logic being touted is flawed. Back of the envelope calculations produce some 15 billion notes per year from the four presses. And 18 billion notes to be replaced. Which is why 2000’s are coming into circulation. Which is another perverse joke (or another instance of patriotism): Who will be able to change a 2000? Try it..
Cui bono? The banks of course: They take all our money and lock it up; then they dribble it out to us so that the rest leads to their recapitalisation and then can be lent to…Your guess is as good as mine. Curses on the conceivers and implementers of this nightmare.
Since it is a fait accompli, there is no chance of a rollback. But surely it is illegal to take my money and refuse to give it back to me. Banks and the Government should pay us interest for this lunatic exercise.
Here in Karumandurai, it is possible, still, to use credit and goodwill and make things work since there is a sense of ‘We are all in this together”. Last week and this, I got change for an old 500 from two youngsters who said, “Oh, Saar, how will you stand in the queue: just take this”, not thinking about the fact that they would have to go through the exchange sometime. That was really heartening. But I shudder to think of the marginalised in the city: the construction labourers, the small shopkeepers, the shoeshines, the domestic help, the oh-so-many marginalised people whom none of the digital classes seem to think of.
Things are going to snowball in the coming weeks; make that months; so I will end with a request to all of you not to hoard 100’s and other change since it is only money getting back in circulation that will help the situation. I, for one, will pull out of the bank whatever I was forced to put in as a token gesture, if nothing else. I ask my economist (and other) friends to comment here on the blog any of their recipes for recovery from this carpet bombing.