Queuing up for change

Pleased at the suffering of the dishonest, poor voters support the Modi government’s demonetisation move. But this enthusiasm is emotional, not political.

Written by Sheela Bhatt | Updated: December 1, 2016 8:06 pm
demonetisation, demonetisation deaths, old currency notes, black money, atm queues, atm, banks, bank queues, corruption, pm modi announcement, modi, pm modi, india news, latest news, indian express Long queues outside banks and ATMs have become a common sight following PM Narendra Modi’s announcement to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

In May 2014, when Narendra Modi became prime minister, it was expected that boosted by anti-incumbency against the Congress, personal charisma that inspired people to believe in promises of acche din, and a strong Hindutva undercurrent, Modi would change the narrative of Indian politics and confidently lead his party to 2019’s election.

But Modi has proved more ambitious than any other leader in recent history. Exactly halfway into his tenure, Modi gave an astonishing jolt to the nation on November 8 by touching on a raw nerve — money. This has created a new class divide out of which Modi wants to earn electoral profit. The great gambler has put everything on the table.

There are no two opinions on people suffering hardships they didn’t deserve. As old notes pour into banks, it seems the government’s calculations have gone haywire. A lack of preparation and inefficient implementation add hardships. Yet, there are contradictory emotions around demonetisation.

When you talk to poor people, you realise that they think Modi has actually unleashed the promise of acche din plus. Now, it won’t be easy to bracket the BJP as a “Brahmin-bania” party. That’s bad news for its opponents. This explains Nitish Kumar, Chandrashekhara Rao and Naveen Patnaik supporting the move. The victories of the BJP in local body polls after November 8 also proves that people have been patient, so far.

Traders are angry as the Modi government wants them to put their cash in the banking system, slash profits and pay taxes. They hate exposing their dealings via Aadhaar, etc. They see demonetisation as Modi’s “undemocratic” way of “imposing” change. Traders in Surat told me that just as China bulldozed people and displaced them from their land to rebuild Shanghai and Beijing, Modi is pushing a digital economy into India. They claimed the government is bullying dhobis, cobblers and daily wagers to open bank accounts, for meagre earnings of Rs 20 a day, which shows an insensitive disconnect from Indian reality.

But many of these poor people are singing a different tune. In Delhi, Sanjay, who cleans Mercedes SUVs costing over 50 lakh and gets paid Rs 350 a month, has a smirk on his face. He says, “Saab ko zaroor takleef hoga. Bahut maal kamaya hai.”(The car owner will feel the pinch, he’s earned a lot.)

Modi has touched upon this idea amongst the poor that “others” have earned too much and hoard lakhs of unaccounted money in dark corners of their homes. For Sanjay, the rich, flashy people he serves affect him profoundly. He supports Modi, who gives him the feeling that he’s punished a Mercedes owner in some way.

With demonetisation, Modi has brought a sharp divide on to the national platform. Normally, the poor are resilient simply to survive — that famed Indian resilience is working for the Modi government now. People are suffering but staying patient, thinking, “Acche din will come after the cleaning is done.” The AAP has strong support among poor voters, but in Delhi the street situation is under control. This shows Modi has once again touched a chord with the aspirational Indian.

Those carrying shopping bags belonging to their “madams” in malls, those paid low wages but carrying the physical burden of growth, those whose income is only “salary-after-tax-deduction-at-source” feel “this will bring good results for the country in the long run”. This narrative is not backed by economic logic; it works on the worldly wisdom of ordinary Indians. Today, the idea of attacking injustice assures order.

I spoke with poor workers, salaried professionals, unscrupulous builders and devious traders across Delhi, Mumbai, Vadodara and Ahmedabad. A conversation with Mahesh, an unemployed youth in Delhi, was revealing. When I asked, “What do you think about notebandi?”, he replied, “It’s trauma. But the pain is only for a few weeks. We can do without subzi temporarily. Lekin bhavishya ke bina kya hai zindagi main? (Without a good future, what’s there in life?)” Mahesh added, “My friends who go to college and seek jobs think that after December 30, everything will be affordable. Cereals will become cheaper. We’ll have more money. Today, rich men are weeping. Corrupt people are howling. This has happened for the first time.”

In Vadodara, Mrugesh runs a taxi service. His business is down to 20 per cent but he supports notebandi, saying, “My father was raided in 1987 by the tax department. We lost our jewelry business. Taxmen harassed us for bribes. We sold flats, bought with black money, to pay our customers, whose gold the tax department confiscated. I now pay taxes and sleep well.” In South Delhi, a two-bedroom flat was on sale. The week before demonetisation, the deal was finalised at Rs 1.60 crore. But it got delayed. After demonetisation, the flat is being purchased for Rs 1.32 crore, the full payment in cheque. Someone’s hard-earned 28 lakh is saved because of a feeling that real estate prices will crash by one-third. That’s bad new for builders — but good news for honest buyers.

As India enters December in amazement, what will happen to those supporting the government? Enthusiasm is on shaky ground; the poor have no cash in hand and fear a loss of jobs. Ground sentiment suggests supporters will lose faith if people find the exercise hasn’t stopped conversion of black money into white. People’s enthusiasm will ebb if the banks end up with deposits around Rs 14.18 lakh crore (money withdrawn from the system as 2,203 crore notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations turned illegal tender). Now, the government’s hasty move to amend the IT law, after it found tax-cheats successfully trying to convert black money into white, created doubts. People could ask if the government is failing somewhere in its target. Any move that allows tax evaders to keep a substantial amount of their black money won’t go well with Sanjay, Mahesh or Mrugesh. Their support is emotional, not political; it can’t be taken for granted.

sheela.bhatt@expressindia.com

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First Published on: December 1, 2016 12:02 am
  1. A
    Anonymous
    Dec 1, 2016 at 9:00 am
    what a silly idea. emotional? she know what we are thinking?
    Reply
    1. R
      ramji
      Dec 1, 2016 at 3:59 pm
      High expectations always turn into high frustration not very far away future BJP cadre itself will turn against its own government.
      Reply
      1. K
        K SHESHU
        Dec 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm
        How many so called ' Rich' people died in the queues waiting for elusive exchange of cash? The persons who feel the pinch can explain the perils of demonetization without adequate preparation
        Reply
        1. A
          Ajay G
          Dec 1, 2016 at 3:56 am
          Emotions have ruled politics in India. Congress is alive b'coz of emotions. Muder of Indira and Rajiv kept them floating. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;SAD but true.
          Reply
          1. A
            a kumar
            Nov 30, 2016 at 9:14 pm
            The 1% of the angrezi intellectuals claim "Enthusiasm for Modi is emotional, not political". There is some truth to it. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The 99% feel that bitterness of 1% angrezi intellectuals is political, not intellectual. Will the angrezi intellectuals agree?
            Reply
            1. O
              Observer
              Dec 1, 2016 at 7:03 am
              Murthy, you need to brush up. Stop being a blind bhakt. Bullet train is not to delhi but from Ahd to Mumbai, only for dear gujju diamond traders. Fresh flower farmers wont pay 6000/- per trip to carry 15 kg flowers. You are free to be a bhakt, but dont be a blind bhakt.
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              1. O
                Observer
                Dec 1, 2016 at 6:55 am
                why are 99% bitter? Can bitterness bring acche din?
                Reply
                1. O
                  Observer
                  Dec 1, 2016 at 7:16 am
                  you sound bitterly jealous. many people who make lakhs, pay taxes. The bullret train with 6000/- one way ticket will be for the rich. The poor will again be seeing the train from far and from a binocular. Get real. Todays inconvenience, will lead to further inconvenience, as jobs are lost, ries cant be withdrawn from banks, business is down.
                  Reply
                  1. O
                    Observer
                    Dec 1, 2016 at 7:11 am
                    you truly must be insane. Even the Delhi airport that services 45 million pengers a year,cost just 15000 crores. This bullet train, which will transport just 400000 pengers a year and will cost 100000 crores. Delhi airport serves 100 destinations for connectivity. The bullert train connects just 4 cities. Be a bhakt. Dont be a blind, unthinking bhakt.
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      A
                      Dec 1, 2016 at 11:38 am
                      Madamlt;br/gt;In how many states the PDS system is effective? And why these pressudes people who are paid agentsbof the dynasty did not care to support proper distribution of PDS items to the really poor.And what these oeopkevhave done in the past 46 years after the Garibi Hato slogan? The filthy rich and the rogue neighbour has been spoiling the economy by creating a parallel one and when an opportunity comes to clean the system of these two rogue elements You are crying the poor is being suffocated.now you are being emotional and not the countrymen
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                        ashok s
                        Dec 1, 2016 at 2:16 am
                        Demonetization was nothing but to help politician to change their old soiled cash into new one .
                        Reply
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                          ashok s
                          Dec 1, 2016 at 2:00 am
                          Nice article , based on truth and facts . I liked the point that if all cash is back in system then what face govt will show to its netizens.
                          Reply
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                            ashok s
                            Dec 1, 2016 at 2:17 am
                            With 2000 notes in circulation the terrorism will double up.black money will the cropped .ha ha haaaa
                            Reply
                            1. A
                              Ashwin S
                              Dec 1, 2016 at 6:50 am
                              I think the government has shifted its goal post with the new IT law.. Earlier the talk was that most people with black money would loose all of it... In PMs own words, they would have to dump their money into gangs...lt;br/gt;Now government has dine a volte face and is saying, give is 50% and keep the rest as white....lt;br/gt;So there goes 50% of the moves benefit... Many poor people have supported this move w heartedly even when they lost all their business and did not have money for basic needs... Now government has betra them.
                              Reply
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                                Col S
                                Dec 1, 2016 at 2:48 am
                                Pity that TRUST has been betra. EMOTIONS not RESPONDED but ABUSED for POLITICAL USE. Instead of ACCEPTING MISTAKE and MAKING AMENDS, HURTING PUBLIC by statements that they LIKE PAIN. INSENSITIVE, BLOATED and THANKLESS leaders will LICK DUST.PEOPLES suffering SHOULD MAKE THEM RESPONSIBLE, ACT and NOT SERMON .ALL RUSE --not stopping BLACK money or Return by GENERATING NEW .Write off of Rs 9 lakh crore PSU NPA is helping BLACK MONEY-- name-shameand jailcould have AVERTED this PAIN. INTENTION is SUSPECT.
                                Reply
                                1. D
                                  Dan Mishra
                                  Dec 1, 2016 at 12:27 pm
                                  The writer is a typical pampered woman who has never struggled in life. She wants life and in extension the Country to be always glorious and comfortable without any sacrifice by its Citizens. Doe she know that every great Country has constantly endured enormous sacrifice. How many millions died in first and second World Wars, Korean War, Balkan Wars, and many current Wars against Jihadists, to defend freedom and democracy. In India, we are at war against corruption. This war must be won at whatever cost. Else you have surrendered to the Evil and condemn yourself for life to a disease that has been eating away your soul for a long time. So, Ms Bhatt be a soldier in the war. Yes, it will be messy. Thinks about our soldiers who are dying in the trenches at our borders and gruesomely at the hands of Jihadists. You mean they should not sacrifice their lives just to live a comfortable life. Try joining the Army. You will learn the meaning of sacrifice. Peace achieved through sacrifice is the only enduring peace. Find out.
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                                    A villager
                                    Dec 1, 2016 at 10:11 am
                                    Indian voter is always emotional , be it garibi hatao or deat of Indira, Tamilian always vote for emotions, so this is not new trend and no worry as Sheela wants to potray.
                                    Reply
                                    1. K
                                      Kannada First
                                      Dec 1, 2016 at 8:44 pm
                                      Her interpretation of the situation is political not analytical. Becoz she's to console many restless souls.
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                                        Dr Noorul
                                        Dec 1, 2016 at 5:10 am
                                        The writer has written a fact revealing article.
                                        Reply
                                        1. S
                                          sushil Ahuja
                                          Dec 1, 2016 at 11:34 am
                                          सदियों से हमारी जनता बनाई जाती रही है जनता आगे भी बुद्धू बनाया जा सकती है जो लोग सबसे बड़े झूठ पर विश्वास करते हैं कि भगवान आला गगोड है।lt;br/gt;इतने बड़े झूठ को जो चल सकते हैं सारी उम्र चलते रहते हैं उनको मोदी को झेलने के लिए ज्यादा तकलीफ नहीं होगी
                                          Reply
                                          1. K
                                            Ketan Sanghvi
                                            Dec 1, 2016 at 9:14 am
                                            So the writer thinks there are only two reasons - emotional (for poor people who don't have brains to understand the real reasons and political (for politicians who cannot think otherwise). She thinks there is no economic dimension to demonetization. Further, she thinks government is an which cannot think what she can. Very myopic and one-e view indeed.
                                            Reply
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