Why Modi laughed so much in the wake of Demonetisation

Why do we cry now that this government doesn’t care about those who suffered and died from Covid? They felt nothing as millions of Indians struggled after notebandi on Nov 8, 2016

More than 100 people were reportedly killed in bank queues in the days following demonetisation on Nov 8, 2016
More than 100 people were reportedly killed in bank queues in the days following demonetisation on Nov 8, 2016

Ranjona Banerji

The anniversary of Narendra Modi’s demonic demonetisation is tomorrow, November 8. If people really ever believed that “Acche din” (good days) and “vikas” (development) were on their way, they knew in their heart of hearts at 8 pm on November 8, 2016 that hope had flown our shores.

Of course, many refused to accept the reality of their new demonetised lives and the horror that played out around them. Those who had to deal with illness and hospitalisation, with no access to their own money. Those who had planned weddings or other celebrations which they were forced to feel guilty about as they were mocked by no less than the Prime Minister of India for their foolishness in the face of his act of terror.

They swallowed (hope it stuck in their craws before it went down) and broadcast his false claims. That Modi had made over 85% of India’s currency illegal to: reduce corruption through “black money” and reduce terrorism by cutting its funding. The result was panic and mayhem. Regardless of Modi’s manic cackles as he enjoyed the pain he had inflicted, people scrambled to survive.

We have forgotten so much of what happened in those days, not least because so much misery has been inflicted on us since. Standing in line for hours for the pittance allowed of your own money, whether at ATMs which had run dry or in banks, which also ran dry. The shortage of the new notes which had not even been printed to match demand.

So many in India do not have access to bank accounts and save cash. All that cash was lost to them, and their savings destroyed. There was a cap on how much you could get back as you surrendered your hard-earned money. This was the supposed trick that was going to flush out the black money.

Two things happened. People paid in almost the exact amount as was demonetised. And currency notes were dumped in the countryside. Illegal exchange businesses flourished.

Halfway through we were informed that the reason was neither black money nor terrorism. It was to take India towards digital payments. And of course, in case you missed it, there had been those ads of the Prime Minister of India modelling for a digital payment platform. All a coincidence of course. Scrub those evil thoughts from your mind.

Why do we cry now that this Modi government does not care about those who suffered and died from Covid? They felt nothing as millions of Indians scrambled after demonetisation. Instead, they congratulated themselves then – as they do now – on the great job they had done in destroying millions of small businesses and livelihoods.

Why take 1000 rupee notes out of circulation if you want to stop illegal hoarding, and replace them with easier to store Rs 2000 notes? Why change the size of all notes when it meant all ATMs had to be reconfigured? It is another matter that many idiots – including my colleagues in the media – concocted absurd nonsense about currency notes fitted with GPS tracking chips and so on.

On a personal note, my family spent a lot of time in hospital a month after November 8 and it was traumatic to watch families of patients frantically trying to organise medical care without access to money. We had to pay for my mother’s funeral with borrowed money. No crematorium in Dehradun at the time accepted digital payments. Do they do so now? The pain you feel at the loss of a loved one is still compounded by the horror of the time.

There was an article the other day about a blind destitute man in the Coimbatore area who had never heard of demonetisation. Suddenly, the Rs 65000 he had saved from begging has been rendered useless. The last date of exchange was in March 2017.

So why did the Modi government do this? Many theories swirled about then and now. That it was an “RSS economist’s” idea that Modi appropriated and tweaked. That Modi wanted to make a mark as a decisive statesman. That Modi is a genius and so on. But perhaps the explanation is not that the Modi government did it but that the BJP under Modi did.

The timing was perfect for the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. All available currency was removed from the market. Most of India runs on cash. All political parties barring the BJP were now effectively defanged and destitute. Against several projections, the BJP romped home.

Now you know why Modi laughed so much then.

(Ranjona Banerji is an independent commentator. Views are personal)

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