Narendra Modi’s "surgical strike on black money" through demonetisation tears asunder the lives of vast sections of the poor, promoting a gigantic transfer of income and wealth from the poor to the rich on a scale unprecedented since Independence. By V. SRIDHAR
For most of November, millions of Indians stood in queues outside banks and ATMs across the country, patiently waiting to collect a fraction of what was legitimately theirs. December came and nothing changed. Considering the scale on which an entire population remained literally on its feet, which also resulted in nearly 100 deaths as is being reported from across the country, what was truly remarkable was the fact that a nation chose to remain sullen instead of turning angry or violent.
As India lurches into the second month of its tryst with demonetisation, it has quickly become evident that this is an unprecedented onslaught on the poor. The country has never faced an economic crisis of the kind it is undergoing now and there is no historic precedent to learn from, from anywhere in the world. Reports from across the country—corroborated by an array of reports from Frontline correspondents, from almost a dozen States—show that the foolhardy and reckless economic experiment has wrought havoc on lives and livelihoods in ways that could not have been even imagined.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clever and cynical use of the image of a beggar with a swipe machine to conjure India’s march to a mythical land of a cashless society reflects a mindset that has only contempt for the poor. The simple point is that a man who claimed to have once been a chaiwala himself at an earlier point in life is just heaping insults on those whose small-scale livelihoods revolve around the fulcrum of cash.
But this is not even just about those at the extreme margins, such as vegetable vendors and people running tea shops or eateries in Indian villages, towns and cities. Farmers, for whom cash is critical, especially now in the sowing season, have been left to the wolves. With the Reserve Bank of India banning cooperatives from conducting any operations, in utter violation of their legal status as “banking companies”, small and marginal farmers have either sacrificed profits from the last harvest or have abandoned or neglected their next crop.