Analysis

Currency Crisis Hits All!

Independent India has never before witnessed and/or stood testimony to any crisis that has virtually attacked all the citizens in a similar manner across the country. Even when communal frenzy has been at its peak, its reach had been categorised by several divisions, religious, caste, regional and so forth. Certainly, decades have passed since the country has witnessed aggressive crowds surging forward with a passionate fervour, whether for nationalistic or communal purpose. Communal incidents, which have taken place in recent years, have involved small groups of people who have largely targeted select individuals and/or families. This change is just a symbolic reflection of the manner in which it is no longer easy to incite frenzy of masses to the point of communal  disturbances, including riots.

In today’s age, people no longer have enough time or will to be easily aroused to this stage. Life of practically each individual is now too engrossed around his/her own world, including the television culture and mobile-obsession. Clearly, defined by these parameters, an average individual, in today’s age can hardly be moved by whatever efforts are made to ignite his communal passion. Prospects of his deliberately stepping onto this path, in return of some payment, cannot be ignored. But then this would be put-on communalism with a limited appeal and of a momentary nature, only because of its financial attraction. These trends have been deliberately pointed out to highlight the importance of understanding the apparent impact of the demonetisation drive.

Long queues of people outside banks and ATMs carry a far stronger message than apparent. Life of millions across the nation has virtually been brought to a standstill, without any fault or desire of theirs. Standing in a queue for literally the same amount, with no religious, economic or any other barrier holding millions apart, bears its own significance. Please note, these millions have moved forward for the same purpose, in response to the same need, that of money -- just a few rupee notes -- whether at the bank counter or the ATM machine. Earlier, the same amount may have been a pittance for many, now the same seems a little treasure for all, even though it is not sufficient to meet even rudimentary household expenses.

When millions experience the same pain, undergo the same ordeal and face similar consequences, its underlying and lasting impact may be far more deafening than apparent. And this cannot be simply gauged by dismissing long serpentine queues as nothing unusual in the Indian culture. True, queues are visible at railway counters, cinema theatres and so forth. But in most of these cases, the wait doesn’t seem perpetual and the end result is usually satisfactory, that is the sought for ticket is procured. The train journey is undertaken, cinema is watched, that is the targeted task is accomplished. Such is not the situation in case of lines created because of demonetisation.

Cash crunch has severely affected people’s purchasing power which in turn has taken its toll on business in bazars. Yes, credit cards are an alternative, but a vast majority does not use them and the facility is not available with most shopkeepers. Cash transactions are still relied upon by the majority. The buyer-seller relationship has seldom been affected by such a severe cash crisis.

PM Modi apparently did not foresee these consequences and even now seems unwilling to face the harsh reality. Rather, he is guided by the illusion that his demonetisation drive has been received very well by the millions. He is assuming that he is emerging a winner all the way in rooting out black money as well as gaining greater popular appeal among the people at large.

Modi’s perception about his “success” apparently rests on his own messages, statements, hoardings and measures used to promote demonetisation move. Irrespective of however impressive and appealing they may seem to him and his crowd of supporters, Modi has erred in assuming that they carry a similar appeal for millions queuing up outside banks and ATMs. True, nobody is against any surgical strike hitting the black money holders. But not many can be expected to be pleased when it spells a drain on their resources, time, energy and even life. Only those with hard earned cash can be expected to have a bank account and/or have kept some ready cash at home as an emergency fund, for daily expenses and so forth.

Not just one or a few, but millions today face the ordeal of lining up for hours only to be able to exchange or draw out a fragment of their own hard-earned cash. Perhaps, some may not have taken long to earn just Rs 2000. Yet, the time and energy being invested to secure the same is nothing less than torture for all. How can the vast majority be expected to be pleased at this exercise? Not too many are. Of course, the majority are exercising diplomatic ethics in asserting that they have nothing against the government’s intention, but it could have been planned more efficiently.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2016 on page no. 11

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