Demonetisation: Move over bhakts and trolls, citizens want unprejudiced debate, reliable info - Firstpost
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Demonetisation: Move over bhakts and trolls, citizens want unprejudiced debate, reliable info


Pained by the insults that the friends and foes of Narendra Modi are heaping on each other over his move to flush out black money, I write two separate notes to them and beg for ceasefire.

First to the Prime Minister’s friends:

If tweets were bullets and Facebook posts were poison-tipped arrows, half of Indians would have been dead by now. Neither your group nor the one that is rubbishing Modi’s move to flush out black money is in a mood to call truce.

It has been 96 hours since this cyber space dishum dishum began, and the ache in my head refuses to go away. My head feels as if two people are tugging my hair in opposite directions.

But a particular tweet nearly got me on Sunday. Even as I was reading it, mulling over the wisdom of it, I fell off my chair, got up after several minutes, shouted for water, gulped it down like a thirsty desert vagabond, got up, pinched my cheek to confirm I was awake, read it again and began to type these letters with a shaking finger.

Here is that tweet:

Okay. To talk about the inconveniences caused by demonetisation, I must either be corrupt to the marrow of my bone or I must be moonlighting for a mafia establishment run on money as black as Singareni coal. To be honest, I am neither of that. Yet, I have been inconvenienced by the sudden scrapping of the Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes. The move was a bolt from the blue.

People queued outside an ATM. PTI

People queued outside an ATM. PTI

Let me tell you about my mother. On 4 November, four days before Modi announced the currency ban, I withdrew Rs 30,000 from her pension account and handed it to her in Visakhapatnam for her expenses. Then I travelled a thousand kilometres to make my living — to reiterate, not from a mafia.

On the night of 8 November, I remembered to my utter shock that Rs 28,500 of the money I gave my mother was in Rs 500s. You can imagine her inconvenience. And I am far away.

On 10 November, when ATMs — or at least some of them — were expected to open after a day of closure, I made a dash for eight of them close to where I lived. Six were shut like graves, with not a word of explanation as to why. Two had no money. I was inconvenienced. I went to banks, but the helpful souls at the counters threw up their empty hands before my turn came in the queues that spilled onto streets. I was inconvenienced.

I repeated this routine every day without result, till no three words of any alphabet created such mixed emotions of fear, hope and hate like A, T and M. Then finally on 13 November, I found an ATM with cash. I am lucky, and I feel sorry for those who aren’t.

Yet, I continue to be inconvenienced — mentally — by reports of small businessmen shutting shops for lack of customers, hospitals turning away patients who can pay only with scrapped notes and senior citizens collapsing like heaps of bones or even dying in cash queues.

In his 8 November speech, Modi led us to believe that the inconvenience would last no longer than 72 hours. But it still goes on. That leaves us with uncomfortable questions. Did the government underestimate the hassles that the move would cause the common man? Or did it overestimate its own efficiency? Why didn’t it deal with this changeover on a war-footing?

Reports suggest that cash is available but distributing it to banks and ATMs is causing logistical nightmare. So why didn’t the government get the NGOs, the police, the military and the paramilitary forces into the operation?

An important point of this letter is that there is a group of people which wholeheartedly backs the move to ferret out the black money but that, at the same time, gives expression to its inconveniences. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this group is even larger than the other two representing Modi’s friends and foes.

Telling me not to talk about my inconvenience is like kicking the meal plate away from me and then stuff a ball of gag into my mouth. That intensifies the inconvenience.

And that amounts to a bias on your part.

Give us a break.

Dispassionate citizens are looking for dependable information and unprejudiced debate.

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To the foes of Narendra Modi

You flummox me as much as the friends of Modi.

Like a railroad worm burrowing into an apple, a suspicion gnaws at my mind. It’s that you are using demonetisation to indulge in demonisation of the man who is behind it all. You had closed your warped and dwarfed minds to the whole idea and were tweeting venom on Modi even before he had finished his 8 November announcement. From the start, you have been mulishly refusing to offer him even a tiny bit of a benefit of doubt that any civilised soul would extend to his worst enemy who professes good intentions.

The currency changeover caused inconvenience. It really did, in a big way. But to conform to your prejudices, you dwell on nothing but that, sometimes blowing the common man’s hassles out of proportions and sometimes spreading falsehoods. You are refusing to even acknowledge the possibility that the whole thing might after all do some good which it might.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

As you see it through your blinkered eyes, the sole purpose of demonetisation is to hassle honest citizens in the name of catching crooks. It’s as if, according to you, Modi were a suicidal maniac who has hit upon an idea to harass his own voters, daring them to vote for him in elections three years from now. And it’s as if Modi was Tughlaq who woke up one fine morning and decreed to his minions: “Change the currency!”

Fundamentally, you not only question the very utility of demonetisation but even attribute sinister motives to him, not by way of a healthy debate but by pouring scorn on the man who promises to fight corruption and begs for a chance to do it.

And you brim with questions, which include:

Do crooks always stack up black money in pillow covers and under the bed? Isn’t a good part of black money lying hidden in real estate, benami deals and gold? Are the troubles that people are being subjected to worth the effort? Can’t the crooks divide their black loot into small portions of less than Rs 2.5 lakh and distribute it to flunkeys and relatives to legalise it without penalty?

There are indeed reputed economists who believe that demonetisation is not an option to eradicate black money or corruption. And it’s indeed a mighty good thing to ask questions in a democracy.

But there is a problem. Scarcely hidden behind your questions is a pre-determined eagerness to knock the bottom out of Modi’s boat. And you then brand anyone not toeing your school of thought as a Modi bhakt. As a matter of fact, you yourselves, strike us as either the acolytes of the Nehru dynasty or bhakts of Karl Marx who cannot have an opinion unless it runs contrary to that of Modi.

And that amounts to a bias on your part.

Give us a break.

Dispassionate citizens are looking for dependable information and unprejudiced debate.

(The author tweets @sprasadindia)

First Published On : Nov 15, 2016 08:24 IST

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