Long-term agony

What does not augur well for the govt is that the initial excitement on note ban is now wearing thin. Harsh realities are emerging.

Fifty years is a lot of time. Especially when it ripples with the suffering of 125 crore people. It is time that this slippery thing — this long-term gain — is caught by its tail. By now we know how short and how painful the short-term pain is. What is not clear is the shape and scope of the long-term gain sold to us.

It is not callous to ask the suffering people to have patience. What is cruelly callous is to ask them to do so, without giving them any basis for their indefinite hope, like being obliged to wait for a train rumoured to be commissioned some time in the future for which tracks are expected to be laid.

With specific reference to this ‘long-term gain’ a friend asked me, “What do you think this is, a soccer finals or the opening match of an indefinite cricket Test series?”

The difference is that the long-term gain in the latter case is too long and indeterminate to be worth the wait. The demonetisation wait for gain now threatens to blur into an illusion. “I feel as though invited,” remarked yet another with a heart for good food, “to a big meal, “but no date is fixed and it is not even clear if it is breakfast, lunch or supper.”

People are getting restive. What does not augur well for the government is that the initial excitement is now wearing thin. Harsh realities are coming to the fore. Questions are being asked. Anger is in the air. The PM sounding bravely desperate deepens their suspicion. Hence, if you don’t mind, a few queries.

Are we living, any longer, in a democracy? Is not the will of the people supposed to be supreme in democracy? Where is the will of the people in any aspect of demonetisation?

We did not will it. It fell upon us like a nightly blow. The opposition parties show poor understanding in calling this a ‘financial emergency,’ which it is not. Emergency is, by definition, something short-lived. Demonetisation is the very opposite of that. It is seemingly forever. If we are to do justice to its genius and genre, it must be called financial tyranny. At least that's how it strikes us.

But let us return to the sacrifices we are urged to make, to make monetisation tick. The question that emerges from the invocation of this religious concept is: Will the 80-odd people, who died standing in queues, be hailed as martyrs? Why not? Were they not making supreme sacrifices? And what is the disconnect between sacrifice and martyrdom? Going by the meaning of ‘martyrdom’ if anyone qualifies for martyrdom, these victims do. Why shouldn’t memorials be set up for them? Why not a day of national mourning?

Well, we know why. Perished they’ve in queues. But they were zeroes. Citizens all right, but light years away from being VIPs. Their life does not have the value of castles. None of them is even a number, you see. They are mere zeroes. That is why 84 deaths do not count. The sum of zeroes is still zero. That’s the arithmetic of demonetisation.

Sadly, I happened to see the anguish in which one of them died. I could not resist the feeling, pardon me, that he was a human being, not a zero. Though not comely and fashionable, though scrawny and wizened with age, he stilled died like a human being. He ‘breathed’ his last in the ponderous weariness of morality! And did not burst like a bubble.

This is what demonetisation has done to us. It has divided India into two parts with a wide, impassable gulf between the two. The zeroes stand, looking jaded, beggarly, cringing in long queues, day after day. You see them.

The second part of India is invisible. They are our heroes. The rich and the mighty, they are milky white in money. Sort of Midas; whatever they touch turns white! You know them, don’t you? If you don’t, attend any one of the weddings billed around Rs 100 crore. All white. No black. All black money is in the pockets of those starving zeroes that dot the creeping queues.

October Revolution
What makes us, the zeroes, increasingly sceptical about this proffered “long-term gain” is that the goal-posts are shifting continually. Though underprivileged, we can still understand that what is fluid is unpredictable and unreliable. What is this cashless society? We never asked for it. To us it sounds like being sent to the moon. It is like the story of a Marxist enthusiast just before the October Revolution in Russia.

“When the party comes to power,” he waxed eloquent, “everyone will be given an automobile” “What if I don’t want a car?” asked a bystander. “You will be shot.” All right. You ask us to make sacrifices. But do you know that before you ask us to make sacrifices, you have to believe in our worth as human beings. Zeroes cannot make sacrifices. Sacrifice involves what is supremely valuable. Zeroes can perish like mosquitoes, but not make sacrifices.

Please decide: either you fix us like zeroes in queues or ask us to make sacrifices. Please don’t do both. Treat us like fellow human beings. “Well, that’s a trap,” you say? You are right. If we have worth like you, the question would arise: why should sacrifices be made only by us and not by some of your tribe as well?

In our experience your slick slogan is now beginning to lose its sheen. It is no longer, “Short-term pain and long-term gain.” It looks like, “Short pain and long-term agony.” Demonetisation has disclosed the deep division in our society as nothing else has. The cleavage between Modi's India, and Bharat, where we live, is now as wide as the rift in Mulayam Singh Yadav Parivar.

(The writer is former principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi)
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