No defence for demonetisation

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 22, 2016 10:40 hrs
No defence for demonetisation

All these weeks into a move that was to be a “minor inconvenience” to us – simpler, of course, to stand in queues at the ATM than serve in Siachen – surely even the most earnest believers in the wisdom of demonetisation must be running out of excuses?

Surely, a couple of ministers sigh that they are out of hundred-rupee notes and they had to go without morning chai because the milkman didn’t have change for Rs 2000?

For them, of course, there is always the canteen at Parliament – though that institution itself may be short on supplies thanks to the hours the elected representatives of the people have had to munch and lunch, what with an entire session being lost over the demonetisation brouhaha.

It is a little unbelievable that nearly seven weeks after the Prime Minister’s sensational announcement, the ATMs are still out of cash and the queues haven’t let up. It is also bizarre that the new 500-rupee notes are so hard to find that one must wonder whether the conceptualisation of the note began after Modi’s announcement.

Worse, despite the government promising to make things easier, it has been making a series of eccentric decisions and reversing them. None of these has made our lives easier.

First, came the promise that the limit of Rs 4500 for exchange of notes would be a short-lived one.

That promise was kept – only, the limit didn’t disappear; it was reduced to Rs 2000.

As is becoming typical of this government, the announcement was made a day before the order came into force. Banks had closed for the day.

The assurance that people would not be harassed over the amount they deposited was reversed a couple of days after it was given.

The Reserve Bank of India’s order barring people from depositing amounts over Rs. 5000 more than once until the December 30 deadline was partially withdrawn – these restrictions will not apply to those who have filled KYC (Know Your Customer) details. And this includes the Aadhaar card number, which one cannot write unless one has an Aadhaar card, which the BJP had promised would not be mandatory.

Given how much ire this move drew from the Opposition, we ought to assume, perhaps, that the largesse will now be extended to everyone who has a bank account, irrespective of whether or not that person has filled in the KYC details.

Enough has been said about the ineptness of the execution where demonetisation is concerned.

But there appears to be no defence even for the idea.

No sooner had gossip spread on social media about enhanced security features than the RBI issued a clarification stating that the security features on the new notes were essentially the same as those on the old notes.

Upon seeing the Rs. 2000 note, I did surmise that the one enhanced security feature might be that forgery could be rendered difficult by the irritation caused to the eyes through prolonged exposure to the fluorescent pink colour of the note. (Has it been made seditious and anti-national and unpatriotic to not be in love with the colour of money?)

Income tax raids have already shown us that the demonetisation has done nothing to stop the hoarding of black money.

What it has shown us, instead, is that a democracy can quite easily turn into a dictatorship – one has no say in the decisions that will inconvenience everyone, despite being assured that the government is by the people and for the people (if not quite of the people).

What it has shown us is the imbecility of the bhakt, who hurls insults and expletives at people whose views he cannot argue against, who insists on defending a government that has consistently let its people down despite having no defence.

What it has shown us is the goodness of some people at a time when everyone is in deep distress – the milkman or the grocer who gives away goods on credit, for instance.

What it has shown us is the ugliness of some people, who set out to exploit every chink they can find in the system – the touts and brokers who exchange old notes at an exorbitant commission for those who don’t have bank accounts, those who are inevitably the most disadvantaged groups in society.

What it has shown us is the callousness of our self-proclaimed and popularly endorsed netas. A prospective prime ministerial candidate choosing to stand in line with the aam aadmi and ruining their chances of getting close to the counter, leave alone withdrawing any money, with the elaborate security protocol that must roll out is no less disgusting than the parading of the nonagenarian mother of the most powerful man in the country at a bank – thereby invalidating the heat strokes and cardiac arrests and immense trauma that affects truly powerless, helpless senior citizens, pensioners trying to ensure they have a wad of cash to deal with emergencies by standing in a queue that will not end in a photo-op.

What defence can there possibly be for demonetisation, when there is no defence for citizens against its ramifications?

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 

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