The Delhi BJP's decision to go door-to-door with laddoos for those queuing up for their own money post demonetisation may be inspired by the old Indian age of the mithai, err, fruit of patience being sweet. But, in India's hinterland, the reward of this patience is not just laddoos: Those in the queues are feasting on aloos (potatoes), foreign currency and even on bites of flesh.
A few days ago, while driving through a town in western Rajasthan, we came across a sight that's now part of the Indian landscape. Outside a SBI Bank branch, people were queuing up at 5 am for currency notes.
"The situation has improved. Things are getting better. Earlier they used to queue up at 4 am," our local driver said with a smirk. "Ok, now watch the fun," he said. So we decided to wait.
Within a few minutes, pandemonium broke out in a queue meant for women. Amidst the fisticuffs, one women bit another's arm, leading to a free-for-all, necessitating the arrival of cops, who quickly dispersed the queue with their sticks.
Start again, please. In the meantime, eat laddoos.
In the past week, traders in Kanpur distributed hundreds of kilos of potatoes free on Express Road, a busy intersection in the country's leather capital. The reason: potato prices had slumped to less than Re 1 per kg since the demand had fallen because of shortage of cash. Since cold-storage of potatoes costs much more, traders decided to distribute potatoes gratis before they turn into garbage.
So there, at least one recorded benefit of demonetisation: Free potatoes.
Five days ago, a panic-stricken friend called up from Mauritius to find out if he should cancel his India tour with a family of 12, including six kids. "I hear they are not exchanging foreign currency. How will we survive?" he asked.
So, I decided to find out. "Sorry, there are no new currency notes available. They have all been sucked out of supply," the owner of a currency exchange told me. "But, if you are ready to pay a premium, I can arrange some new notes," he volunteered. How much? "The exchange rate is Rs 71.75, but I can get you 67," he replies. That's a neat profit (in black, of course) of around Rs 5 on every Euro (or Dollar) exchanged. And a mind-boggling rate of return on almost negligible investment. "Hoo-ah", as Al Pacino famously exclaimed in Scent of a Woman, achche din are already there for those in the business of exchanging notes. Calls for laddoos!
Incredible India! Yes, of course, wait till the tourists go back to their countries and narrate incredible stories about how they had to beg, borrow and sing for survival during their dream vacation in India.
Let me come to the point: Demonetisation has had a huge impact. But, not only where it was intended. If the government was intending to act like a pinch-hitter before polls in Punjab and UP, it has also ended up scoring some self-goals. If it was counting on a surgical strike, some of the blast from the missile has hit its supporters too.
Soon after the decision was announced, the BJP relied on the Prime Minister's charisma to build the narrative of the momentary pain being a sacrifice for the cause of the nation. As Firstpost has argued out in the past, suffering is noble only till it is less than that of the neighbour. What passes off as suffering in our pop culture of hypocrisy is just envy; the misplaced belief that cutting off your nose would spite the neighbour's face. Doesn't work.
In the context of demonetisation, the light at the end of the suffering was greed. Many held on to the belief that once the rich are deprived of their loot, the Robin hood of politics would distribute the largesse among the poor, especially through cash rewards in bank accounts. The imagery of the surgical strike on demonetisation was similar to a marauder raiding the enemy land at the head of mercenaries, promising them a share of the war-exploits. They thought, as the saying goes, there were laddoos in both hands.
But, that doesn't seem to be happening. Windfall gains for RBI that were expected in various circles now appear a distant dream. The economy is reeling because of the lack of supply of notes and the consequent fall in demand. The unorganised sector is facing a temporary shutdown. Erstwhile Modi supporters like former HDFC chief Deepak Parekh and journalist Tavleen Singh are now worried about its impact. And, as former finance minister P Chidambaram argues, the decision has been slammed by a large number of economists and hurt the livelihoods of several Indians.
Also, the hunters themselves now appear turning into the hunted. A report in Rajasthan Patrika claims a sting operation by the government has revealed the evidence of widespread corruption in the entire system. The newspaper says the home ministry is sitting on the evidence of fraudulent transactions in thousands of bank accounts. In addition, a large number of the nearly 25 crore Jan Dhan accounts are under the scanner of income tax sleuths.
If, and it is a big if because of the numbers involved and the impact on elections, thousands of account holders and bank staff are grilled or prosecuted, they would certainly not be eating laddoos, or letting the BJP devour them in the next polls.
Since this is about sweets, let us revisit a famous laddoo story of the BJP. On 8 November last year, on the morning of the counting of votes in Bihar, the BJP started distributing laddoos the moment it heard that the first trends were predicting victory for it.
Within a few hours, as results pointed to a BJP rout, the sweets were all thrown away on Patna's Bir Chand Patel Road for cows to eat.
On demonetisation too, the BJP should perhaps hold back the laddoos till people count their cash.
Updated Date: Dec 13, 2016 16:03:03 IST