The theatre of the absurd continued with the Prime Minister telling India’s poor, whose accounts were flush with the ill-gotten gains of the rich, to make the rich beg to get their money back. Clearly, the poor have no morality, if we go by PM Modi’s Robinhood-style address to the nation. The politics of it and the obvious appeasement of a votebank aside, the message it sends out is that new India values greed over character. The new response to the iconic “Mere paas gaadi hai, bangla hai… tumhare paas kya hai? (I have a car, bungalow…what do you have?)” would today be, “Mere paas tumhara black money hai (I have your black money)”.
Money comes with muscle and writing the PM a letter will not help if the goons come calling to collect! Earlier, his legacy as a former chai-wallah showed how good, old-fashioned, boring hard work can inspire success. That seems to be replaced by finding a rich man (or woman) and taking some of his or her money. For the millions of India’s poor, who have braved loss in wages to support demonetisation in the hope of seeing India change, it’s also downright insulting.
In a capitalist, free economy, Startup India has shown that the right idea is your ticket to success and possibly becoming a millionaire. It’s about following your dreams and not about the moolah. A couple of months ago, auto-rickshaw driver Manilal Gohil used his savings to buy a rifle for his daughter, a national-level shooter. US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton embraced her legacy as the daughter of a woman who once earned $3 a week as housekeeper. The homegrown brand Nirma started in the backyard of founder Karsanbhai Patel, who sold it door to door in the initial period. Google Jyothi Reddy and words “labourer to CEO” pop up.
I remember losing my wallet at New Delhi Railway Station and being left with no money to pay the coolie. Rajesh, the coolie, offered me cash since I would need it on the way. When I called my father to tell him, he remarked, “Sharafat (integrity) doesn’t only belong to those with money.” It’s this “sharafat” that is our legacy and, hopefully, soap opera style speeches are not going to put a dent in that.
To end with another iconic Bachchan dialogue from Deewar, “Main aaj bhi pheke hue paise nahin uthata (I don’t pick up money that’s thrown at me)”… and neither should India’s poor.
(The writer is an editorial consultant and co-founder of The Goodwill Project. She tweets @anuvee)