Finally, everything comes down to perception. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a doer; he means good and he is not afraid to take risks – this is the perception you come across while standing in queues outsides ATM kiosks.
The information that goes into building it is often downright banal. The arguments built around the information are bereft of any sense of rhyme and reason. Nobody is quite clear what exactly black money is – for most, it’s the thick stash of currency notes the rich supposedly conceal under their beds or behind fake walls in their living rooms – or how replacing old notes would stop its generation in future, but that is a minor hurdle to having an opinion. And the opinion so far is positive – ‘so far’ needs some emphasis because if the cash chaos continues longer then the mood might turn drastically opposite.
“Modi won’t allow these black moneywallahs to rest in peace,” says the man standing next to one in the queue in Hindi. “Which other politician will take a risk like this? Now they (the other leaders) cannot utter even one word in protest. They have lost their ill-gotten money in one stroke and cannot do anything about it,” he continues. He has been in long queues at ATMs seven times in three days already and managed to withdraw money only once. It does not bother him much. “You have to bear small pains for the bigger good,” he says.
At one point you wonder whether he is part of the massive Modi bhakt gang spread out everywhere, and most visible in news media. Then you discard the thought since your regular autowallah and bai at home also have the same view. Both are of the opinion that the rich are rich only because of black money, the money they have looted from the poor, people like them. They may not gain anything from the current exercise but if the rich lose their money it would be satisfying enough.
Another man plays a video on his mobile phone and invites others to watch it. It shows men somewhere in India arriving at a secluded place in a van and throwing wads of currency notes from the dickey on the corner of a street. “This is what happening to hoarders of black money,’’ he says, adding, “They have no place to hide. I have heard the Ganges is full of Rs 1000 notes these days. Ordinary people are facing problems now. But every big surgery brings some pain. Once the tumour is removed, everything will be better than before.”
It does not matter how the drive against tainted money goes in future, the government has been successful in tapping into the mix of anger and revulsion common people have against black money, more specifically the supposed hoarders of such money, and turned it into something positive for itself. Seen deeper, it subtly plays on the animosity of the underclass towards the better-placed in the economic ladder. It won’t be a surprise if the government goes to town claiming itself as pro-poor. It might even justify the current trouble of the common man as necessary since it is aimed at his own benefit.
With the opposition as yet unable to decide how to stand with those suffering from the demonetisation move the BJP, the party that runs the government, has an advantage, in terms of public perception. No doubt Modi’s image as a go-getter and a no-nonsense politician stands enhanced at this point.
However, the public appreciation could be temporary. A lot will depend on how the government manages to end the cash problem of the man on the street. Without a quick solution, every ATM point could turn into a trouble spot for it. Public sympathy is fickle; the silent but angry voices in the queues cannot be taken for granted. No one other than Modi would be more aware of it.