No one, as expected, celebrated the first anniversary of the demonetisation, nor to the utter disappointment of the opposition, anyone burnt the effigy of Modi or took out protest march. But many like me remembered how the declaration by the Prime Minister that the notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 would cease to be legal tenders from midnight, affected common people, the middle class like me. I had no worry as I did not have any unexplained millions.
I faced a tricky situation. I was worried about buying dinner for two guests. I had only Rs 500 notes. And the Army’s M. B. Club, in Lucknow Cantonment refused to accept those notes when I ordered dinner.
Although at 9pm, the notes were valid but the Babu there refused, “I can’t accept them, suppose banks refuse or ask for details which I can’t get, please forgive me.” That was that.” I had to take my two friends to Taj, which including tip and taxi cost me nearly Rs7000/-. In the club, it would have been around Rs300)/- I have often wondered if I could claim this from the Modi Government.
The following morning I saw about 250 people lining up for the branch of the State Bank of India in the part of the Club building. They were either staff of the club or their family members. It was interesting to see the Bank’s main door open and shut at intervals. I learnt that the door was closed when the stock of new notes of Rs 500 and Rs 2000 finished and would open again when the stock would be replenished.
I also went to the bank one morning to exchange Rs 2000 in four old Rs 500 notes with the new notes. I was surprised to see the bank staff, despite tremendous, includingthe Managerin good humour and polite.
I was very touched when one of the young club waiters came to me and showed five Rs 500 notes and said it all was his life’s savings, was it all scrap of paper. Such misunderstanding was, I found, quite common in a village which was hardly 10kms from the Cantonment. But the correct understanding was bound to reach villages. The people of all age groups, and socio-economic strata could be seen at allbank branches, the only difference was that the number of people lining up, depended on the size of the branch.
I am sure many in the queue were from rural areas, who will put things straight.
By the third day, hawkers were doing brisk business. And in the older part of the City, I saw a group of three, one playing harmonium, anotherwas playing Tabla and the third was belting popular Bollywood song.
Trust this city of Nawabs to find ways to enjoy even in adversity.
I did read stories of someone dying or quarrels and more horrific tales, a family could not by a life-saving drug, of en- masse return of labourers engaged in construction or trading sectors.
But I did not see any such incident. In fact the Taxi driver whom I always engage for the entire period of my stay, told me with great glee, “Sir chor lut gaye.” I have censored two adjectives he used to describe the ‘chor’ for they would have tingled sensibilities.
The ‘chor’ seemed to be a very important state leader. The Taxi-driver claimed to have seen over half a dozen trucks laden with bags, covered with tarpaulin emerging out of the leader’s residence.
The opposition, especially the trio who hates Modi the most, Rahul, Mamata and Kejriwal, were very hopeful that the hundreds of thousands who braved the weather, absented from their offices and for days returned empty-handed—because the supply of new notes was woefully short of the demand—were readymade constituents for them.
I remembered a driver of a jewellery shop owner who for days couldn’t stop telling drivers in the neighbourhood that his Sethji’s offices, shop and residence were raided and huge amount of cash was seized. ‘Skin of my hands have cracked polishing his Merc and Audi, but he says ‘business mandhahai’ whenever I ask for a raise, I am so happy such cheapsters have had to part with their money. I am glad notebandi is making raeeslog spend sleepless nights.”
With such a sentiment it was no wonder that Mamata and Kejriwal found no ‘readymade’ anti-Modi voter. Rahul Bhaiya also tried to foment anti-demonetisation sentiment. He went, surely with TV crew in tow, and stood in line to get new notes. The prince had come in a car reportedly worth at least Rs 50 lakhs, to get a maximum of Rs 2000/-.
Unfortunately his main objective was not realised. No one from the line came to complain about hardships due to notebandi.
Farmers, it is alleged, suffered because of shortage of cash they could not buy seeds and fertilizer in time to bow wheat. But, it could not be widespread because, at least, as far as I know, there were no riots. In fact urgent measures were taken to reach seeds and manure to farmers.
It is not that the people did not suffer. Many thousands did go through hell and especially the old and women had very bitter experience. But it was all over in a few months and the benefits in the long run are aplenty.
Arvind Subramaniam, chief economic adviser, when demonetisation was announced told the Indian Express during an interaction on Adda that ‘there has been hardship — there is no question. People in the informal sector have been hurt, livelihoods have been affected and incomes have come down. That is because this was largely related to the lack of cash and liquidity. It, therefore, follows that, once that cash and liquidity come back into the system, there should be no long-term effects from that.
The ill-effects have already worn off to some extent. Rahul has gone all out to finish BJP’s base in Gujarat, but is mostly criticising GST and hardly mentions demonetisation. One can under why!
In any case we can be confident that with 2019 not very far, Modi, the reformist, cannot go on entangling people with problems and hardships however short-lived with further reforms. And he must be aware of Arvind Subramaniam’s advise:
Fixing the Indian state is beyond Brahma, and Vishnu, Shiva and all the God’s together.
Modi is human, he will err and if we believe that demonetisation was as Manmohan Singh said, ‘It was an organised loot, legalised plunder; broke the back of small businesses’, a year later it seems Modi has been pardoned by the people. In all surveys, the latest being Pew’s, he emerges as the most acceptable and popular leader.
The best summing up “Notebandi affected the rich who are in minority, so Modi survived, Gandhis perished because nasbandi affected the voiceless and penniless majority.’
By vijay Dutt