In the chaotic days after the surprise announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, two figures have caught public attention nationwide (at least at this stage). The first is 47 and the second 550.
What are these numbers?
Well, 47 is the latest count of reported deaths across India that have been linked to the demonetisation chaos — mostly, it was elderly people died waiting in the queues to draw money from their own bank accounts, or to exchange their own old Rs 500, Rs 1,000 notes. The actual death count may be higher or lower since there is no accurate estimate other than media reports.
The second number, 550, refers to the fancy figure of Rs 550 crore.
That's the amount Karnataka-based politician and mining baron, G Janardhana Reddy, spent to arrange the wedding spectacle for his only daughter, Bramhani, on Wednesday — a wedding attended by politicians from both the BJP and the Congress. Reddy recreated a palace to surprise his daughter.
There aren’t any examples better than these two numbers to depict how the rich and poor in this society have been treated by Modi’s historic demonetisation exercise. Those 47 who died from exhaustion and trauma in long queues and the Reddy wedding are two ends of this society in which we live. These figures tell us how the ‘rich and the powerful’ couldn't care less about the cash crunch and how it is the common man, the janata janardhan, who is the actual sacrificial goat.
Reddy is only a symbol of a club of the rich and politically-powerful in this country, who are immune to the general rules that apply to the janata in this country. This club never bothered about Modi’s currency ban.
The Reddy show
How did Reddy manage Rs 550 crore for his daughter’s marriage extravaganza? If this entire sum was plastic currency or electronic currency, Reddy holds the answer to how to turn India’s deeply-locked cash economy into a cashless one in a matter of days — he should be made the Union finance minister or Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor, as the incumbents in these positions are struggling to achieve this goal.
Or else, even if a fifth of the money Reddy spent was in cash and if we assume that all of these aren’t Rs 100, Rs 50 and Rs 10 notes that Reddy had stored in his secret chamber before the currency ban, then the following question arises: How did Reddy manage to get new currency (to the tune of Rs 100 crore or more when common man is forced to stand in queues for hours before so much as a glimpse of new currency notes or even the old Rs 100 note?
Did some banker or a childhood friend in the government help Reddy to get what was required to pay for the Rs 550-crore wedding gala?
The answer should come from the Income Tax Department, the police, the financial intelligence unit and ultimately, the Narendra Modi government. And it isn't limited only to Reddy; all similar cases should be identified and investigated. The guilty should be brought before the law of the land.
It's true that Reddy is known for the abundance of his wealth. He has every right to conduct the wedding ceremony in whichever way he wants. Nobody has any right to sneak into an individual’s private life and then analyse his personal affairs. But the current scenario warrants a closer look.
All of us — the salaried, the small traders, the vegetable vendors, the safaiwallahs, the chaiwallahs, the school teachers, the bank clerks and the taxiwallahs — have money in our bank accounts, although the figures may not be even a fraction of Reddy’s fortune.
But, logic says that the difficulties that apply to the common man should apply to Reddy as well, if the rules are same for every citizen. Right?
If that is the case, we need the government to tell us how the ‘pain of child birth’ is so different for two ends of society? Yes, all of us are eagerly waiting to see the baby and still curious to know why the double standard?
What the two figures — 47 and 550 — tell us is that the ones who are supposed to be taken care by the political establishment — the aam aadmi — are left to die near ATMs and bank branches, while life is much the same as before for the highly privileged in society.
The Reddy wedding is a case that needs to be investigated thoroughly. But, the big irony is the failure of the Modi government in governing the whole exercise. It's ironic because the government itself agrees that it was planning the demonetisation exercise for some six months. That’s a lot of time to plan and make the contingency measures ready.
But, still the super-brains in the government couldn’t visualise what would happen to the order of life among the majority of common people, when the decision was finally rolled out. Perhaps they expected an ideal situation whenin every citizen practiced self-discipline and drew only the bare minimum from ATMs. But, what the government failed to understand was mob psychology.
The government should have thought through the process and realised that that people would withdraw the maximum possible amount each time (Rs 2,500 as of now in certain ATMs) and the machines would run dry in matter of hours, if not minutes. It failed to see that people will hoard their own legitimate money anticipating bad days ahead, further complicating the matter.
There are people still, mainly senior citizens, office-goers and housewives, who haven't been able to withdraw money in the past eight days and have cut short their expenditure to the maximum extent possible, while on the other hand the wealthy like Reddy still have a magic wand to get their cash and spend it for their ‘humble’ needs. Just to understand the picture let’s assume that a bank fills around Rs 2 lakh in an ATM at a time considering current cash crunch.
The amount Reddy spent — Rs 550 crore — would fill 27,500 ATMs across the country. While the Reddy gala took place in Karnataka, there were many fathers who committed suicide across the country, as they couldn’t buy groceries or to meet other expenses for their daughters' weddings. The loss of lives cannot be treated as a temporary pain; the issue is very serious.
A death count of 47 or so — as is being reported — happens only when there is a natural calamity or a vehicle mishap or a bomb blast, not when a “well thought-out” economic reform gets implemented by a government. No matter the long-term benefits of the demonetisation exercise, the Modi government is answerable for the difficulties and loss of lives the common man has faced in the days since the announcement.
The two figures — 47 and 550 — should be an eye opener to Modi and his ministers.