Gauri Lankesh on 'Demonetisation and Tughlaq Modi'

Gauri Lankesh on 'Demonetisation and Tughlaq Modi'

Demonetisation and Tughlaq Modi
Gauri Lankesh, the Kannada journalist gunned down on September 5, had responded to the note ban with a special edition of her weekly magazine and this editorial. PM Modi demonetised Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes on November 8, 2016.

Narendra Modi has revealed his Tughlaq face. Claiming to wage war against black money, he has gone to war against the middle class and the poor, who constitute a majority. By demonetising Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes, he has mocked them as cheats and dubbed as thugs people without a morsel to eat. This special edition looks at many aspects of his demonetisation madness.

Bizarre stories made the rounds on social media last week. Some claimed the new Rs 2,000 note would have a nano chip to enable the government to monitor how the money was being spent. The income tax authorities, or so the stories said, would use satellites to locate and raid those hoarding new notes. The stories claimed the notes could be tracked even if they were buried 120 metres below the earth. Zee News in Hindi and a Kannada channel zealously put out imaginary stories. One of the anchors was bouncing up and down in delight like the pontiff of the Pejawar math. The woman presenter who seconds him went to the extent of proclaiming the note featured a picture of the Mars mission to indicate how satellites would keep an eye on the currency.

The stories spread like wildfire. Last week, when I boarded a train to Hubballi, all my fellow passengers were talking about the chip. Taken aback at their naivete, I said, “It’s all a lie. There’s no such chip in the note.” Two middle-aged men, sceptical about me, said the news had appeared on TV. “Not everything that appears on TV is true,” I said. They countered me: they had heard such notes were already in circulation in the US. “Who told you? There are no such notes anywhere in the world,” I said. “What is the use of demonetisation then?” one of them asked. “Give it some thought,” I said. A young man on a top berth butted in: “You know what use it is? Big industrialists have borrowed money and are not paying back their loans. The banks have no money. That's why they are out to make people deposit their money. And people are taking their old notes to the banks, afraid they will turn out worthless otherwise.”

“You mean this won’t solve the black money problem?” one of the men said. “It will take care of fake currency for a while. But its extent isn’t big. Within months, they will start making counterfeits of the new notes. The corrupt keep their wealth in jewellery and property, not cash. Only a small amount gets demonetised. In any case, we will never get, as Modi had promised, Rs 15 lakh in each of our bank accounts,” I said.

“Oh, we thought Modi was on to something big. Looks like he has just put his hands into our pockets,” a man said, sighing.

The State Bank of India has just written off loans it had advanced to 63 companies. Know how much they owed? A whopping Rs 7,016 crore. This includes the Rs 1,201 crore owed by liquor baron Vijay Mallya. It isn’t difficult to guess on whose side Modi is: the affluent who borrowed for their fancies and whose loans he has waived or the millions of hard-working people standing in long bank queues to deposit money they have earned.

Modi has not been able to bring black money stashed away abroad. He hasn’t even been able to name the secret account holders. His election promise of Rs 15 lakh in each citizen’s account remains a pipe dream. Even if we put up with such scams, how can we look on as he snatches away the livelihoods of the poor and the middle class?

An elderly man waiting to take out money for his daily expenses has died. And how did a BJP vice-president respond to it? “Big deal. People die even in ration shop queues.”

When it dawned on Modi that a majority was frustrated with his insane actions, he didn’t say, “Please bear with me. I will fix the problem in a few days.” Instead, he said, “I’m doing all this for the nation. People who have ruled us for 70 years are conspiring against me.” No one in his party told him, “But sir, when did these people, struggling to withdraw their own money, ever rule in these 70 years? How can they conspire against you?”

The middle class and people in the media, who had hailed demonetisation as Modi’s ‘masterstroke,’ now see the machinations behind it. They are aware the new note holds no magic. It can’t banish black money, and Modi’s eccentricities are causing them misery.

Modi continues to say we must put up with all this in the interest of the nation, but the problem won’t go away anytime soon. Common people will have to scrape and scrounge for cash at least for four months. Business has been affected badly. With no customers, fisherfolk and traders in West Bengal are in the doldrums. In Punjab, farmers have no cash to buy seeds. If they don’t sow now, the prices of rice and wheat will go up soon. ‘No money in hand, nothing to eat either’ is the fate of millions. All this thanks to Modi.

The BJP is feeling the heat of the people’s anger. Party president Amit Shah has instructed MPs to put up flex boards praising Modi’s ‘surgical strike’ against black money. They usually follow his instructions to the letter, but this time they aren’t paying him any heed. Except for an MP in Gujarat, no one has put up laudatory flex hoardings.

Even people in Gujarat have turned against Modi. Assembly elections are coming up. Expecting praise, party workers holding pamphlets went towards citizens standing in a bank queue. They received blows instead!

Allies such as the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra are also turning their back on the BJP. Quite a few BJP leaders are openly criticising Modi’s actions in the presence of the media, though they are unwilling to speak on record. Even Modi is coming to know of the attrition he has generated. That is why he comes across as so fidgety on his tours.

About 25 people have died across the country because of demonetisation. In Uttar Pradesh, a couple with old notes was turned away from a hospital and their daughter died as a consequence. A woman in Gujarat with old notes couldn’t feed her two children; she hanged herself.

In Kanpur, a young man had been trying for months to sell his property. On November 8, he finally received Rs 70 lakh in advance. When he heard of demonetisation the next morning, he suffered a heart attack and died. A woman in Telangana, who had sold her land for her husband’s medical treatment and her daughter’s wedding, was told the cash was worthless. She committed suicide. In Udupi, a man standing in a long queue, waiting for his bank to open, died of a heart attack.

Not one of these was a thug. Not one of them was an Adani, Ambani, Tata or Birla. They were honest middle-class people, farmers, homemakers, all earning their livelihood from honest toil. They ended up as victims of Modi’s grandiose war against black money. He is responsible for their deaths.

In fact, Modi has launched no surgical strike against black money. What he has done is push helpless people to death. What better can we expect from Modi’s Tughlaq dispensation?

[Excerpted from The Way I See It: A Gauri Lankesh Reader, edited by Chandan Gowda, and published by DC Books and Navayana, Delhi.

Chandan Gowda says, “The book brings together select political and cultural writings of the courageous activist-journalist. Published over the last two decades, these writings, many of which were originally written in Kannada, offer a rich introduction to her varied political commitments and cultural interests. Her political journalism reveals a constant concern for the fate of India’s democracy and an unswerving passion for social justice. Gauri’s essays in the autobiographical mode also illustrate the affection and seriousness she brought to human relationships.”]

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