The real failure of Narendra Modi’s demonetisation campaign has been its callous inability to acknowledge how it devastated vast sections of Indian society.
This is the last part of the five-part series on demonetisation.
Demonetisation, the great experiment undertaken by the Modi government, has run its course of 50 days. They say it has been a failure. They say its failure can been judged through multiple fallouts: the fact that possibly not more than six per cent of the black money was stored as cash to begin with; the fact that nearly 97 per cent of the demonetised currency of Rs 15.4 lakh crore is reportedly now back with the banks; the fact that poorly-paid and woefully-inadequate tax inspectors would now have to screen millions of bank accounts to determine what is black and what white; the fact that it has irrevocably eroded the reputation of the Reserve Bank of India and encouraged mutiny within; the fact that most external agencies have slashed India’s GDP growth estimates for the coming year and beyond; the fact that it has led to severe cash crunch in the unorganised sector that employs four-fifths of all labour force; the fact that migrant labour has returned in large numbers to villages; the fact that those without bank accounts, like the tribal population, have been hit hard, the fact that enrolment for rural employment under NREGA has peaked; the fact that automobile sales have dived; the fact that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor buckled under political pressure to relinquish his famed proficiency; the fact that switching the discourse from black money to less-cash was in itself an admission of failure; the fact that unearthing fake currency turned out to be a red herring; the fact that bank credit growth has hit a 60-year low; the fact that lakhs have been rendered jobless.
Well, they are wrong.
Demonetisation is not a failure because of economic reasons. Nations make up the losses, the numbers cower then reappear, economies collapse then rebound. The monetary loss on account of demonetisation (one per cent of GDP) is still less than the 2G or the Coalgate scam losses. It will be made up soon – through natural economic growth or the selling of tarnished family silver; and when it is, everyone would go home thinking this disaster never happened.
Economic numbers tell a story that keeps under wraps the psyche of the perpetrator and the prey, a story that is forgotten as easily as it is told.
No. Demonetisation is a failure not because of economic reasons, it is a failure because this government under Narendra Modi conducted a social experiment that coerced the citizens to choose apathy over empathy. Demonetisation is a failure because the eyes of the state looked away from the pain, because it decided on the limits of suffering, because it adhered to Social Darwinism; because economic numbers, not people, mattered to it.
Demonetisation is a failure because the unbearable lightness of suffering was projected as bearable.
Compassion, karuna, daya, bhavna, empathy – these evolutionary endowments, expounded first philosophically by Dharmashastras and later scientifically by Darwin, that make us what we are, that allow us to survive, were dumped by the state and its supporters who otherwise take pride in at least the former. But for them this was not the time to return to the Dharmashastras or the Upanishads or the Gita, nor was this the occasion to revere the philosophy that has trundled down our sacred mountains and soaked our body and soul alike for millennia. This was the time to revere Narendra Modi, to stand by him, to extoll him, to tell his story from their mouths, pens, and tweets; to harbour the belief that in years to come no one would recall the pain or the suffering of the common people, no one would recall how academics turned sycophants; think-tanks, echo chambers; editors, minions; tweeters, flatterers; patriots, puppets. All one had to do was to look at quarters not queues, macroeconomics not misery, stocks not suffering.
Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, as long as we decide who the family members are going to be.
Words leave, images stay. But so what? Show them a successful landing and not the horrible crash. And every passing day, every new suffering was rationalised thus – don’t meet the eyes, don’t see the anger, the pleas, the cries, the destitution, the despair. Just see the numbers. Evade what is in front of you, defend what is indefensible, even when it was clear that a great disaster was unravelling, that Narendra Modi was a failure, that an alternative had been ignored, that the war had been lost, that the milk of human kindness had turned rancid.
What you are about to see are not numbers but stories. Turn into an island and you will not cry. Become a rock and you will feel no pain. Do it.
- Nov 8, 2016. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announces Demonetisation.
- Nov 12, 2016. Ration shop looted in a village in Chattarpur district in MP.
- Nov 12, 2016. Father of a seven-year-old TB patient in tears because his old notes are not being accepted.
- Nov 12, 2016. A senior citizen in tears. “I am a patient. But they are not accepting old notes.”
- Nov 14, 2016. Farmer unable to buy seeds or fertiliser. District Magistrate refuses to answer the phone.
- Nov 15, 2016. Queue outside SBI Branch (Salkia) in Howrah, West Bengal.
- Nov 17, 2016. BBC report on woes of the farmers and others, from Kirdoli village in Rajasthan.
- Nov 19, 2016. Tales of farmers in western Uttar Pradesh (UP).
- Nov 20, 2016. Scene outside State Bank of India, Deoband, UP.
- Nov 21, 2016. Scene outside SBI Pinahat branch in Agra, UP.
- Nov 21, 2016. Road blockade outside Vijaya Bank in Pahar Ganj, Delhi.
- Nov 21, 2016. Potato farmers having to sell their crop for half the original price.
- Nov 21, 2016. Police lathi-charge at bank customers in Kishanpur village in Fatehpur, UP.
- Nov 21, 2016. Farmers having to sell their crop at Rs 20 instead of the usual Rs 300-350 per unit, Gujarat.
- Nov 22, 2016. Two people dead because private hospital refused to accept old notes, Sambhal, UP.
- Nov 22, 2016. Residents of Moradabad take to streets because banks have no cash.
- Nov 22, 2016. Police lathi-charge, stampede like situation, at yet another SBI branch.
- Nov 22, 2016. PM’s adopted village Jayapur. ATM not working for 13 days; residents handed old soiled notes by bank.
- Nov 22, 2016. Scene outside Pariyawan SBI Branch in Pratapgarh, UP.
- Nov 22, 2016. Scene outside the Lesliganj SBI Branch, Palamu, Jharkhand.
- Nov 22, 2016. Scene outside Canara Bank, Jahangirpuri branch in Delhi.
- Nov 23, 2016. Mother tries to burn herself as she can’t feed her kids. A father commits suicide.
- Nov 23, 2016. Scene outside Bank of Baroda, Partap Chowk, Ludhiana.
- Nov 23, 2016. Scene outside Central Bank of India, Bidhannagar, WB.
- Nov 23, 2016. Unable to withdraw money for exam fees, teen hangs self in UP.
- Nov 23, 2016. 70 year old man dies of heart attack outside Bank of Baroda in Botad, Gujarat.
- Nov 23, 2016. Woman dies as Dialysis Hospital refuses to take old notes.
- Nov 24, 2016. Scene outside SBI, Nellore, Andhra Pradesh.
- Nov 24, 2016. Police lathi-charge at customers, especially women, at Raghubir Nagar SBI branch, Delhi.
- Nov 24, 2016. Half a kilometre long queue outside SBI branch in Kaimganj, Farrukhabad, UP.
- Nov 25, 2016. ABP’s ground report from Ahmedabad regarding the state of ATMs in many parts of the city.
- Nov 25, 2016. Citizens continue to suffer. “What do I do? Who should I beg from?”
- Nov 27, 2016. Note ban shatters Morbi, the ceramic hub of Gujarat.
- Nov 27, 2016. Traders and Businessmen protesting on the roads in Karolbagh, Delhi.
- Nov 27, 2016. Scene outside Karur Vysya Bank, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi.
- Scene outside the SBI ATM at Behrod, Alwar, Rajasthan.
- Nov 28, 2016. Angry locals bring down the boundary wall of an SBI branch in Manipur.
- Nov 28, 2016. 80-year-old woman dies in a bank queue in Muzaffarnagar.
- Nov 28, 2016. Farmers are having to either throw away their produce or sell it for a pittance.
- Nov 29, 2016. Scene outside SBI Haldaur, Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh.
- Nov 29, 2016. Scene outside SBI, Khudaganj, Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
- Nov 29, 2016. Scene outside SBI, Kateya, Gopalganj, Bihar.
- Nov 29, 2016. Desperate and despondent crowd venting their frustrations.
- Nov 29, 2016. Scene outside SBI, Banat, Muzzafarnagar, UP.
- Nov 30, 2016. Old woman who can barely walk dragging herself across a bank. Says bank not helping.
- Nov 30, 2016. Scene outside SBI Vishamangalam, Vellore, Tamil Nadu.
- Nov 30, 2016. Another death in a bank queue, in Jalandhar, Punjab.
- Dec 1, 2016. Old woman from Pratapgarh, UP dies in SBI. Bank refuses to give more than Rs 2000 to her son.
- Dec 1, 2016. People on an all-night dharna at State Bank of Patiala, Lehragaga, as they don’t have cash.
- Dec 1, 2016. Distressed farmers speak out.
- Dec 2, 2016. Scene outside SBI in Aurai, Muzaffarnagar, Bihar.
- Dec 2, 2016. Woman badly injured when angry customers broke a bank window at ICICI, Faridabad.
- Dec 2, 2016. Scene outside Central Bank of India, Fazilnagar, Kushinagar, UP.
- Dec 3, 2016. In Kanpur, a pregnant woman stood in queue for hours, ended up giving birth inside the bank
- Dec 3, 2016. Scene outside SBI branch in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh.
- Dec 3, 2016. Scene outside a bank, with waiting women fighting with each other.
- Dec 3, 2016. A few women waiting outside a bank narrate their harrowing stories.
- Dec 5, 2016. 70-year-old farmer dies in a bank queue in Thanjavur, TN. No one helps.
- Dec 5, 2016. Old man at a village square vents his anger.
- Dec 5, 2016. Scene outside the Oriental Commerce Bank branch in Gurgaon.
- Dec 5, 2016. Customers pelting stones and chairs at State Bank of India branch in Saharanpur, UP.
- Dec 5, 2016. In Punjab, a father dies after not being able to withdraw money for his daughter’s wedding.
- Dec 5, 2016. Farmer dies in Hamirpur, UP. Angry villagers place his dead body in front of the bank and protest.
- Dec 5, 2016. One more death in a bank queue in Meerut in SBI’s Gola Kuan branch.
- Dec 6, 2016. Scene outside SBI Naidupeta, Andhra Pradesh.
- Dec 6, 2016. Bank guard fires shots in the air at HDFC branch, Budhlada, Punjab.
- Dec 7, 2016. Scene outside SBI Fazilka, Ferozepur, Punjab.
- Dec 8, 2016. Customers ransack Bank of Baroda (Mahmmadpura branch) over cash crunch in Bharuch, Gujarat.
- Dec 8, 2016. Protest and roadblock at SBI Tolichowki in Hyderabad.
- Dec 9, 2016. An old man in tears. His wife is sick. Unable to deposit his old notes & withdraw new ones.
- Dec 9, 2016. People pelt stones at an SBI branch in a village near Gorakhpur due to cash crunch.
- Angry women conversing with police block the road across the SBI bank, Yamuna Vihar, Delhi.
- Dec 9, 2016. Sanitation workers in NOIDA protest non-payment of salary because of cash crunch.
- Dec 9, 2016. Locals in Moradabad, UP, vandalise an SBI branch after the bank closed its gates.
- Dec 9, 2016. Scene outside Bhikhiwind SBI Branch, Tarn Taran, Punjab.
- Dec 10, 2016. Scene outside an SBI ATM, Sector 18, Noida.
- Dec 10, 2016. Customers pelt stones at the Oriental Bank of Commerce, Agra.
- Dec 10, 2016. This girl’s father shot himself after failing to withdraw money from his bank account.
- Dec 10, 2016. Scene outside State Bank of Patiala, Rail Coach Factory Hussainpur Branch, Punjab.
- Dec 10, 2016. ATM queue at Fortis Hospital, Gurgaon.
- Dec 10, 2016. Angry traders protest at Nehru Place, Delhi.
- Dec 10, 2016. Rajasthan farmer says he’s facing a huge loss, no money for seeds, fertiliser.
- Dec 12, 2016. Crushed and distraught small vendors – a report by Hindustan Times.
- Dec12, 2016. Helpless Sudevi Dasi, a gau-sevak who stayed back in Braj to tend to cows.
- Dec 12, 2016. Customers sleeping overnight at SBI Bank in Jhinjhana town, Shamli district, UP.
- Dec 12, 2016. Scene outside SBI bank in Proddatur, Andhra Pradesh, hours before the bank is to open.
- Dec 12, 2016. Post Cyclone Vardah, customers, some without umbrellas, at an SBI branch, Racherla, AP.
- Dec 13, 2016. Scene outside Bansgaon SBI Branch, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.
- Dec 13, 2016. 63-year-old man dies after standing for hours at the SBI main branch in Hissar, Haryana.
- Dec 13, 2016. People queueing up early in the morning in biting cold at ICICI Baddi Branch, Solan HP.
- Dec 14, 2016. Scene outside Sardhana SBI branch, Meerut, UP.
- Dec 14, 2016. Doctor won’t accept old notes. Husband dies while wife was standing in a bank queue.
- Dec 15, 2016. 70-year-old woman dies in Chittoor district, AP, while standing in a bank queue.
- Dec 15, 2016. People sleeping in the open, in biting cold, Thoothi Bari SBI Branch, Maharajganj, UP.
- Dec 15, 2016. People make the ambulance wait as they don’t want to leave the queue, SBI, Gorakhpur.
- Dec 15, 2016. A farmer dies of a heart attack after waiting for many hours in a bank queue.
- Dec 15, 2016. 34-year-old man dies in a bank queue in Sitapur after queueing up daily for Rs 2000.
- Dec 15, 2016. Statement by Gulabi Gang, that fights against gender discrimination, dowry, and domestic violence.
- Dec 16, 2016. Teacher dies of heart attack in an ATM queue in Ambajogai, Beed, Maharashtra.
- Dec 16, 2016. Scene outside Syndicate bank in Aligarh.
- Dec 17, 2016. A farmer tries committing suicide by consuming pesticide in front of the bank.
- Dec 17, 2016. Scene outside Balianwali State Bank of Patiala Branch, Punjab.
- Dec 17, 2016. Vandalism, stone pelting at Punjab National Bank, Bulendshahar, UP.
- Dec 18, 2016. Guard at Punjab National Bank fires in the air. Even that doesn’t deter people.
- Dec 19, 2016. Scene outside Bank of Baroda, Aliganj Branch, UP.
- Dec 22, 2016. Man worked in a factory, lost his job, now selling bread-omelette. Andoli, Hasayan, UP.
- Dec 22, 2016. Retired railway employee dies, so does a farmer while standing in a queue.
- Dec 23, 2016. Paralytic man brought to bank as it won’t let his son withdraw money for medical expenses.
- Dec 23, 2016. Man stood in line, couldn’t get money, died of shock.
- Dec 26, 2016. Another death. Senior citizen had gone to withdraw money for a wedding in the family.
- Dec 27, 2016. People beating each other with chappals while in the bank queue.
- Dec 29, 2016. Bank lines continue even after 50 days post-demonetisation announcement.
- Dec29, 2016. Scrap dealers in Dharavi and the labourers who work there facing a nightmarish time.
- Dec 30, 2016. Scene outside HDFC Mubarakpur Branch in Mubarakpur, Uttar Pradesh.
- Dec 30, 2016. State of tourism business in Paharganj area of Delhi.
- Dec 30, 2016. Old woman addresses Modi, says there’s no money for medicines, nobody is giving mazdoori.
- Jan 1, 2017. Scene outside Punjab National Bank in Kushinagar, UP.
- Jan 2, 2017. 70 year old man dies standing in an SBI bank queue in Balia, UP.
- Jan 2, 2017. People from Gohana, Haryana, jam the highway because they are unable to withdraw money.
- Jan 2, 2017. Jamnagar-Rajkot highway blocked by bank customers after they fail to withdraw money.
- Jan 2, 2017. Chhattisgarh farmers selling their veggies for free as they are unable to make any profit.
- Jan 2, 2017. Over 2000 distraught Diamond workers in Surat, Gujarat, protest against Demonetisation.
- Jan 2, 2017. Flour mills production down by over 40%; mills operating at 20-25% capacity.
- Jan 3, 2017. Scene outside State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur in Harnavdashahji, Rajasthan.
- Jan 3, 2017. Angry customers lock up the Gondal SBI Branch in Rajkot, Gujarat.
- Jan 3, 2017. Scene outside Achampet SBI Branch in Guntur, AP.
- Jan 3, 2017. BJP MP Manoj Tiwari mocks people standing in bank queues, other BJP leaders laugh out loud.
- Jan 4, 2017. A poor woman strips in front of RBI as it won’t let her exchange old notes.
- Jan 6, 2017. RBI refuses to exchange old notes despite earlier promise of saying it will up to March 31.
- Jan 6, 2017. In Samrala, unable to get just amount for it, farmers throw away their produce on the road.
- Jan 6, 2017. In Amreli, angry residents and farmers try to lock the SBI bank.
- Jan 6, 2017. Old woman dies in a queue at Dena Bank, Banaskantha; people lock the bank, jam the highway.
- Jan 7, 2017. Stone throwing outside Dena Bank, Banaskantha; police was reportedly forced to use tear gas
- Jan 7, 2017. Another video of stone throwing that happened at Dena Bank in Banaskantha, Gujarat
- Jan 7, 2017. In Nandurbar, woman commits suicide after not being able to withdraw her own money.
- Jan 7, 2017. Unable to get cash, residents of 16 villages protest and block the Rajkot-Jamnagar highway.
- Jan 8, 2017. A man dies at Murajhar SBI branch, Assam, while waiting to withdraw money.
- Jan 9, 2017. Multiple protests across Gujarat; angry people jam highways, lock up banks.
- Jan 9, 2017. Unable to get cash, over 200 angry people lock the SBI bank in Liliya taluka.
- Jan 10, 2017. A 70-year-old poor farmer narrates his distress.
- Jan 12, 2017. Like the Kerala lady, this old man had no clue his two notes of 500 can’t be exchanged now
- Jan 14, 2017. Young boy carries his grandmother in his arms at a bank queue to get her Rs 1200 pension
- BJP Minister says Demonetisation happened due to Mahatma Gandhi’s image on the notes.
- Jan 14, 2017. Distraught farmers in Ranchi throw away their produce on roads.
- Jan 14, 2017. With the RBI reneging on its promise, a mother is unable to exchange 6500 collected for her kids.
- Jan 15, 2017. Unable to get their money from Jalalabad SBI Bank, Punjab, people block the highway.
- Jan 16, 2017. Customers wait in biting cold outside a “No cash” board in Fatehpur SBI Branch, Kangra, HP
- Jan 21, 2017. 62 year old widow finds Rs 60,000 in old notes. They can’t be exchanged as RBI changed the rule.
These stories happened, the pain and the suffering was real; it was experienced – not by this writer, not by you the reader, not by the Prime Minister, not by the State, but by millions across the length and breadth of this country. Stone-pelting, vandalism, gheraos, road blockades, mile-long queues, deaths, suicides. But the disease was contained; we didn’t suffer from it. And so we have a choice – we can disregard these stories because they are not ours.
The protraction of a disease has got little to do with the discovery of a new drug meant to cure it. The cure exists, but it is not provided. Because the suffering is not felt, it is not internalised, owned; because you do not see it, you are not shown it.
Those 363 million Indians who earn less than a dollar a day, who barely eke out an existence, trapeze through life without a net, they are to be touched but only by a helping hand, never by one that snatches something of theirs away instead, something that is so cruelly fleeting to begin with – their time, serenity, money, felicity. Temporary, short run, inconvenience, momentary, transient – play with these words and phrases in your boardrooms and TV debates. The poor cannot be played around with, cannot be disturbed if it isn’t to relieve them of their crushing poverty.
Well, Narendra Modi did just that. He disturbed the poor in the wrong way. He pretended to be the friend of someone looking out the window waiting for the last leaf to detach, then climbed up the tree outside in the middle of the night and detached it. And yet everyone around him calls this his masterpiece. Next, they will turn the story on its head call it the Artist’s struggle. Narendra Modi’s struggle.
But the old woman, her smile kind yet troubled, dragging herself slowly across a cold-blooded bank, that sudden cattle herd-like release of the waiting mass of humanity at the gates of the Deoband SBI branch, that boy in a crowded bank queue carrying in his arms his shrunken grandmother, those desperate eyes of the father of a seven-year-old TB patient outside the Kalawati hospital, and hundreds of thousands of such images, and days upon days of such suffering – they are difficult to turn into numbers. They can only be forgotten with unwavering apathy, with conscious, deliberate effort. And how easy that is, to discard Dharma and Darwin both. A flick of the fingers and it is done; the stories are reduced to harmless waves slapping at the base of a cold, unapologetic rock.
Narendra Modi’s government is one such cold, unapologetic rock. And if there is one maxim about governments, it is that they never apologise, they never admit their mistakes. But voters do. And those who have suffered for the greater good of the few, they will stand in line one more time.
- This is the fifth article in series on Demonetisation, the earlier ones being:
- The author gratefully acknowledges Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) from whose twitter feed the videos were downloaded and later collated by the author using the twitter handle @_demonetisation.
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This article first appeared in newslaundry on Jan. 23, 2017.