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In the wake of mammoth protests against his demonetisation step, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 22 tweeted, “I want your first-hand view on the decision taken regarding currency notes. Take part in the survey on the NM App.” It was an invitation to participate in an app-based survey so that Modi could assess how many people were “for” his bold step, which has as of on Wednesday left more than 65 people dead and plummeted the country into a financial whirlpool.
Watch: Demonetisation Is Monumental Mismanagement By Modi Govt, says Manmohan Singh
On Wednesday, the government announced that 93 per cent of the five lakh people who participated the survey were in support of demonetisation. The sample size, however, features only a minuscule portion of the country. Has the 93 per cent positive response been used by the government as a broad brushstroke to paint the overall mood of the country? Or has it been used to gloss over the stark ground realities?
Let’s unpack this. First, only 17 per cent of the entire Indian population has access to smartphones. It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that this percentage represents the educated, digitally-savvy lot that has access to debit/credit cards, knows how to use them and is well-versed with e-transaction apps like Paytm and Mobikwik. In effect, therefore, this percentage has been least hit by demonetisation in comparison to those who live in rural villages; those who are the daily wagerers, those who perform small, cash-based transactions everyday, many of whom don’t have bank accounts and have no idea what a plastic card does.
However, let’s look at those who have responded to the survey. Registration is a prerequisite on the app, without which you cannot take the survey. The app requires you to feed in your name, your email id, phone number, your professional background, along with your voter ID card. It basically informs the government exactly who you are. When it comes to taking surveys, however, particularly those which concern the nation, many would prefer to remain anonymous, in order to steer clear of potential trouble they may face in case they give poor ratings.
Why? So far the narrative that has been built around demonetisation in the country is this: If you are in favour of it, you are hurrayed for your patriotism. If you are not in favour, you’re labelled as unpatriotic and possibly a hoarder of black money. In fact, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has been releasing radio messages which corroborate and proliferate this narrative (http://bit.ly/2gDj1Jf). Those who oppose the move then are fearful of voicing their views.
Third, there are many who are skeptical of the results. In an interview with NDTV, Mohan Guruswamy who heads Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent think-tank in Delhi, said that he didn’t take the survey’s results seriously because “the way the questions were framed and it’s [Modi’s] app, so his admirers will come to it…I’m surprised his didn’t get 100% or 99%” in favour of demonetisation. He added, “If Kejriwal had such an app and asked similar questions, I suppose you’d get overwhelming 90% saying that ‘we don’t like it’, because generally it’s the followers/believers who go to such apps.” That’s an argument which may see debatable, but I wanted to see if there was any weight to it. So I logged into the app and read some of the comments our Prime Minister had received from the survey. The comments are available on the app itself and a majority of the comments are in support of Modi. Have a look:
Modi claimed that 93 per cent of those who took the survey are pro-demonetisation. It’s important to note that it is the BJP (who developed the app) that has control of the information it received and therefore it’s the BJP that has therefore the overall control of the result. In rural India, including Modi’s adopted village Jayapur, the locals have no access to cash. In fact, the banks closed its doors yesterday at 1:30pm informing the locals that it had run out of cash.
One cannot, therefore, look at this survey in isolation. It skews public perception and doesn’t reflect the stark ground realities.