It all began on 8 November, 2016 at 8PM. A historic day witnessed by the world’s largest democracy. The Prime Minister made a sudden appearance on TV sets to announce that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were no longer legal tender. He claimed that this was to curb black money and corruption.
Suddenly, 86% of the currency in circulation in a country of 1.3 Billion people had been reduced to mere pieces of paper. Suddenly, Rs. 14,10,400 crore worth of cash, which was in circulation was useless; much like the decision itself.
For starters, those who think that people actually store black money in gunny bags in their houses must be really obsessed with Bollywood. It is common sense. Those who have black money are insecure.
They’re wary of raids. The first thing they’d do is convert it into gold biscuits, diamonds or stash it in foreign accounts. And even if they did store it in gunny bags, the new 2000 Rupee note would only make it easier to store the black money.
What would take two gunny bags will now take one. So this move is basically only making storing black money much easier. Oh and by the way, what about those Indians whose names appeared in the Panama paper leaks? Have they been forgiven in exchange of flowery statements in support of this move?
And what about the 15 Lakh that was supposed to reach us after all the black money was brought in from Swiss accounts? No sign of Mallya or Modi either after they ran away with our money. Getting all this money would go a longer (and much more convenient!) way in bringing back black money, no?
How the country went berserk overnight!
When the announcement was first made, people went nuts, and rightfully so. My parents waited in a long queue at 12am to fill fuel in the car with whatever cash they could. A smart vegetable vendor kept his shop open in the night and my folks returned with vegetables that would last a month.
Likewise, a few smart goldsmiths too kept their shops open and apparently finished racks after racks of gold overnight (for a slightly higher cost of course). While some did all they could to utilise their Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, some fools like me chose to trust the PM when he asked us not to panic and promised all our money would be exchanged. Lies; there was much reason to panic.
Two days went by in patience. ‘Why should we stand in queues for 4-5 hours to be able to access our own hard earned (white) money?’, they asked by the 3rd day.
Daily wage workers started begging as they had no option, while small businesses started falling apart as (1) people got stingy and (2) they’d spent most of the day in queues. We then reached a point where people started losing lives.
Our dear PM at this point chooses to make another special appearance. This time a lot more drama in his speech. He first mocks the people who are standing in queues and then those who are unable to spend on their weddings. The same evening he sheds tears and talks about having threat to his life (while people had already lost lives due to his ‘bold step’).
More announcements follow. Each one pointing out to how ill-prepared the Government was. From Hospitals, airports, public utility, etc to accept the notes only for 72 hours to being allowed between 14 to 24 Nov. From money exchange limit being Rs 4500, to Rs 2000. From using ID cards to track multiple exchanges to indelible ink on the finger upon transaction. Those who have weddings scheduled to be made an exception to the exchange limit (after a few died and some other weddings were spoilt/cancelled/postponed).
In the midst of all this, former BJP Minister, Mr. Janardhan Reddy chooses to have a lavish Rs 100 crore wedding. Not that I have any right to question his choice of lifestyle, his insensitivity or the fact that none of this really pricked his conscience, but it is interesting how the glaring contrast stares us right in the face.
A common middle class or poor family is not even able to organise a wedding as they desire with their own hard earned white money due to this mess. Clearly, this move has only caused inconvenience to the middle class and poor but not really affected the rich and corrupt. So what’s the point?
9 days have gone by, 55 lives have been lost. Daily wage workers are forced to beg on the streets for money while bhakts (blind supporters of PM Modi) sitting abroad are glorifying the move. Common man of India is spending 4-5 hours of his day in ATM/bank queues. Sometimes successful in getting his own money, sometimes the banks/Atms running out of cash by the time he/she reaches the end of the queue and, therefore, forced to sleep hungry.
Who is responsible?
The government had all the data. They knew how much money was in circulation and with how many people. They should’ve known what they were getting into and should have been prepared for it.
Why experiment at the cost of people’s lives and livelihood. Legend has it that Queen Marie Antoinette of France was approached once and told that the people of her country didn’t have bread to eat. She replied in her ignorance, ‘Let them eat cake instead’. As I finish my article I wonder, is this India’s ‘Eat Cake’ moment?
(The author is the General Secretary, NSUI. Views expressed here are the author’s own)