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Demonetisation Divides India

By: Atul Cowshish

India stands divided. One section, by far the largest, is in pain following the ‘demonetisation’ (not the correct word, say some) of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes and the hardship they face in exchanging old notes for new ones; some people have paid the ultimate price of death. The other section is led by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi himself who see ‘demonetisation’ of high currency notes as the panacea for ending the circulation of unaccounted money, also called ‘black’ money, which in the process will break the back of financing of terrorism.

A linguistic divide has also been a totally unexpected consequence. The new notes represent the denomination of the notes in Devanagari digits instead of the constitutionally mandated Arabic numerals. That may please the Hindutva camp but has annoyed many non-Hindi speakers.

Some observers think that ‘demonetisation’ is related to the forthcoming assembly polls in some state. There are interesting stories in the media that the main rivals of the BJP in UP have made some clever moves to neutralize the effects: they have asked the seekers of their party nomination to raise money in the legal tender and replace the old ones.

To stress the point that declaring Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes as dud is about to usher the utopia of corruption-free India, Modi had to resort to a lachrymose explanation at a public function. Indulging in self-praise he declared that he left home at a young age to dedicate his life to serving the nation.

That was emotionally strong and a reminder of Modi’s penchant for theatrics. But the question is does such repeated performances create the impact he hopes for?

The ‘pro-demonetisation’ group has reviled and ridiculed the critics and mounted a campaign to claim that the ‘majority’ of people are gladly suffering a ‘temporary inconvenience’ because they feel demonetisation of two high value currency notes is for the good of the country.

If this is true the men and women who are suffering would have waited patiently, not shouted slogans and even given vent to their fury by breaking window panes and doors of banks. The media would not have carried stories of the various kinds of hardships the people are suffering because they find that they cannot use their own hard-earned money. There have been near riots almost on a daily basis outside banks in all parts of the country.

Modi has asked the countrymen and women to give him ‘fifty days’ for winning the war on black money. If he fails, he is willing to accept ‘punishment’. That can be dismissed as another ‘Jumla’ from the prime minister. Not even the most ardent of his supporters can see the circulation of ‘black money’ ending in less than two months. As for ‘punishing’ him, that is possible only through the ballot box.

No matter how much praiseworthy the ‘experts’ find the demonetisation move, the stark reality of widespread popular resentment cannot be overlooked. When Modi and his Bhakts deride those who resent the government move as the voices of hoarders of black wealth they are insulting the people.

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