Demonetisation has come as a leveller for India's poor

Modi's black money clean up drive has created an economic divide cutting across caste lines.

 |  5-minute read |   24-12-2016
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Caste, which has been the underlying motivation behind the bulk of the voters across the country, may not play its traditional dominant role when India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, goes to the polls in a few months from now - thanks to Narendra Modi's demonetisation drive, which has created an economic divide between the rich and the poor.

As of now, it is not about caste. By and large the society today appears to be torn between pro-demonetisation and anti-demonetisation, which - in effect - means one is either for Modi or against him. Evidently, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to have virtually got dwarfed before a larger-than-life Modi.

To that extent, demonetisation may eventually be a game-changer in the 2017 Assembly election with two routinely dominant factors - caste and black money - both getting relegated.

Even as raids carried out by the Income Tax authorities have unearthed bagfuls of "black money" in new currency, fact remains that its percentage in electoral politics is bound to get reduced substantially.

690demone_122416100647.jpg But the way things are playing out, it would be no surprise if we were to witness a major loyalty shift. Credit: Reuters

The divide is amply visible outside banks and ATMs. Those condemning demonetisation are largely well-to-do people , who find it demeaning to stand in long queues. They are the ones who feel offended when the bank denies them what they seek out of their own bank accounts. And they also complain about spending hours at banks for making small withdrawals.

They invariably have more than one "logical" reason to flay Narendra Modi for having ordered demonetisation without adequate preparation.

Ironically, however, the man on the street seems to have taken all the harassment in his stride. "Yes, I stood in the queue for three hours before my turn came and then I was told that I cannot get more than 5,000 rupees against my request for 10,000; yet, at the end of the day I feel Modi has done a good job", said Shatroghan Lal, a 59-year-old daily wage construction worker in Gosainganj block on the outskirts of Lucknow.

Ram Swaroop of Gohna Kalan village in Bakshi -ka-Talab tehsil said: "I waited for three days before I could get 2,000 rupees out of the ATM and that too in the form of the new 2,000-rupee note. It took some time to convert it into smaller currency. But I do not mind that.

This note bandi has come as a lesson to the rich, who are loaded with gunny bags of money."Nankau, a small-time farmer in the village of Bhatt-Barkatnagar did feel the pinch as he ran from ATM to ATM before he could get a small amount of cash to buy seeds.

"So what, now even the affluent farmers of my village is standing in long queues at banks," he chuckles.

There is no doubt that farmers are finding it difficult to procure seeds and fertilisers without ready cash, but with the passage of time, they are beginning to understand that even the state government has not facilitated the availability of seeds and fertilisers at its cooperative stores in villages.

"We would have been allowed to purchase seeds and fertilisers from the cooperative stores on short-term credit, but no one has thought of that," said Radhey Lal, a 40-year-old former gram pradhan, who is educated enough to explain how the state government agencies were failing to cooperate to make things easier for the village folk.

Back in the urban areas, where the month-long currency crunch on account of poor handling by all of the PM's lieutenants, seemed to be gradually getting over, the reaction of the poor and the rich is no different.

Notwithstanding the oft-repeated condemnation of the demonetisation policy by Opposition leaders who were crying their lungs out over what they termed as "plight" of the common man, the poor does not appear to be as rattled as the rich.

And that was primarily because the deprived poor is quite used to standing in long queues - whether it is to fetch water for one's daily needs, or to buy a railway ticket, to board a train, or - for that matter - to get his weekly rations from fair price shops.

The poor are always at the receiving end - whether it is to get a power connection or to a report lodged with the police.Standing in long queues is a part and parcel of the lives of the common people. So it is no big deal for them to bear the brunt of the ongoing acute shortage of currency.

They seem to be also getting some kind of vicarious pleasure out of seeing the rich and the affluent - for a change - at the receiving end. For them, demonetisation has come as some kind of a leveller.

However, there is no doubt that BJP's traditional supporters - traders and businessmen - have been hit hard, so they have good reason to flay the party and its leadership for having left them in the lurch with the sudden declaration of the note ban.

But the way things are playing out, it would be no surprise if we were to witness a major loyalty shift. The BJP may lose a section of its traditional vote bank, but it would not be too far-fetched to assume a correspondingly bigger voter shift from different parties to BJP.

Where else could that kind of support come from, other than the poor and the underprivileged?

Writer

Sharat Pradhan Sharat Pradhan @sharatpradhan21

The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst based in Lucknow.

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