Note Ban: Assault on People's Hard Earned Cash, Livelihood and Dignity in the Name of Attack on Black Money
IT HAS NOW BEEN A WEEK since Narendra Modi made his Tughlaqi 'Note Ban' announcement. In one fell swoop the government junked all the 500 and 1000 rupee notes. People were asked to deposit their existing notes and collect their weekly 'ration' of new notes from banks, post offices or ATMs. For those living beyond or on the margins of the banking network and having no access to the digital world of plastic money and internet banking, it has meant a disastrous descent into growing chaos, insecurity, darkness and even death. The much-vaunted 'surgical strike' on black money has truly turned into 'carpet bombing' on the common people.
The government says it had been meticulously planning for this ban for the last six months. The indications of advance planning can of course be seen in BJP leaders posing with the new Rs 2000 note before it made its formal appearance and curious cases of huge deposits in certain accounts, including official accounts of the BJP, just a few days and hours before the announcement of the ban. But if what the country is experiencing for the last one week is to be attributed to meticulous high-level planning, then we must say that this government is utterly incapable of governing and the sooner we can get rid of such a bunch of incompetent rulers the better for the country.
The government took away 500 and 1000 rupee notes from the people and what the people got back in return in many places were the newly introduced 2000 rupee notes. But the new 2000 rupee notes being smaller in size than the old 500/1000 rupee notes, many ATMs have been rendered dysfunctional till they are made compatible with the new size of notes. In the absence of currencies of lower denomination, the everyday economy of the common citizen has been completely disrupted. No wonder, 100 rupee notes have been selling in the black market even as the government now inks the fingers of people drawing their own 'rationed' money after queuing up for hours outside banks.
The Modi government has proved to be not just thoroughly inefficient not to anticipate the chaos created by its ill-conceived demonetization drive, but it has also been exposed to be deriving a sadist pleasure from the sufferings of the people. With his characteristic histrionics, Modi said he had got all the scamsters and black money hoarders in the country standing in the queue for sheer two notes of 2000 rupees. He said the poor were sleeping peacefully while the corrupt rich couldn't get any sleep even with sleeping pills. This when people are forced to give up their day's work and earnings to stand hungry and sleepless for hours in queues to get a ration of their own hard-earned money!
When reports have started coming in of people dying while spending hours in queues for notes or without getting medical treatment because of lack of notes, a BJP leader from MP says people can also die while standing in queues for food. Modi's media managers are telling us that the poor do not have 500 or 1000 rupee notes, so the move has only inconvenienced the corrupt and the rich. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is asking the people to use this passing inconvenience as an opportunity to go cashless and switch over to digital transactions! The arrogance of the power-drunk rulers and the contempt of digitally empowered elite for the common people of India has seldom been so transparent. Like the proverbial 'let them eat cake' advice given by the French royalty to the hapless people not having bread to eat, the BJP government is asking cash-strapped poor Indians to use cards for transaction!
Designating this Tughlaqi demonetization drive as a surgical strike on black money is thoroughly misplaced and deceptive. We all remember that in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Modi campaign had relentlessly talked about repatriation of black money from foreign banks. Every Indian was promised Rs 15 lakh share in this repatriated treasure, something which was later trashed as 'jumla' or plain rhetoric by the BJP President. Now, in two years of Modi rule the discourse is being shifted from holdings in foreign banks to domestic hoardings, as though black money tycoons have literally stashed cash under their beds and with this one single blow all that cash will now come out in the open. A government which has refused to act against illicit outflow of wealth or obscene accumulation of domestic wealth or ostentatious extravagance by corporate defaulters and tax offenders is trying to deceive the people by presenting demonetization as a war on black money.
In real life, we all know that only a small portion of black money is temporarily held in cash, the rest is continually converted into illicit wealth (whether in the form of real estate, jewellery, shares or any other lucrative investment asset) and/or used for transaction as a politico-economic lubricant (political funding, payment of bribes and so on that in turn is used to fund sundry luxury expenses of power-brokers and various parasitic classes). If at all demonetization addresses the issue of black money, it covers only that small part of the problem where black money is currently held in the form of cash. But just as demonetization in the past did little to tackle the problem of either black money or fake notes, it is highly unlikely that the present drive will prove to be any more effective.
The roots of black money and economic corruption lie in the close nexus between big capital and state power, and the intimacy of the two defines every economic policy decision and its implementation in the era of crony capitalism and corporate loot. With Modi repeating his promise to end black money – earlier he wanted 100 days to repatriate black money from foreign banks and now he wants 50 days to act against black money inside the country – the government must be exposed and challenged on this very issue. Corporate bank robbery (sucking people's hard-earned money into the banking system only to write off corporate loans) and tax tyranny (exemptions for and evasion by the rich while crushing the common people under the weight of the GST, the most regressive tax policy which targets mass consumption while exempting wealth and inheritance) are the two big crimes of this government to hide which it has now inflicted the Note Ban Emergency on the people. After SEZ and forcible land acquisition, this has been the biggest economic assault on the common people and we must resist it with all our might.
The BJP is talking about converting surgical strikes – the much-trumpeted one across the LoC and now this one on our wallets – into votes in the coming Assembly elections. We must foil this design and make it backfire by mobilising the people to use the coming elections as an opportunity to punish the perpetrators of undeclared political and economic Emergency. The attack on the honest cash economy and livelihood of the common people, and the sadistic celebration of the people's misery by the Modi government and the Sangh brigade must get a fitting rebuff when the people queue up outside polling booths in the forthcoming elections.