“Mere pyare deshvasiyon, give me 50 days of pain to deliver the India of your dreams,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, “otherwise punish me at the place of your choice” - and most of India was sold to the utopian idea.
The nation went hysteric at the prospect of being able to sacrifice in what they believed was a chance to take part in a "freedom struggle" against the greedy rich.
People lined up outside ATMs and banks, for hours, days; often returning empty handed when machines ran out of cash; the poor hopeful that black money hoarders were going bankrupt, even as corrupt bankers laundered money.
It was, therefore, with great excitement and confidence that the working class and the poor waited for Modi to share details of the black money banks had collected in 50 days. They were sure he was going to lay bare a balance-sheet, including details such as money spent on printing new notes, and how much more time would be required before the withdrawn equivalent currency would be back in the system. People expected life would soon return to normal.
They also expected the PM to apologise for the bad calculation, for dragging them into utter misery to withdraw and use their own hard earned money. Instead, they got a merry-go-round gobbledygook of “sound and fury” that signified nothing.
Why can’t Modi himself tell the nation right away how much unaccounted assets have been recovered so far; and the total quantifiable cost of implementing demonetisation to the exchequer?
Somewhere in the first few weeks of the money game, the government realised it had goofed up. And they wondered if Modi would apologise; admit the error of judgment and the foolhardiness?
Will he announce compensation to families who lost their breadwinners and the elderly just because he acted upon a daydream balanced on nothing more than an inflated ego?
Nothing of that happened, we now know. He has failed to live up to the media created image of a tough, larger-than-life figure, more so when he has hardly reached the half-way mark on the self-serving ego trip, leading the country into further chaos. Much like the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin, he wanted to become the legend, even if he would have to step on the dead bodies of his gullible subjects.
While critics posed questions on why Modi - and not Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel - had to himself make the noteban announcement and why ATM machines were not recalibrated for new notes in time, he shifted the goalpost to a “cashless economy”.
He is also mysteriously silent on the corrupt-to-the-pits state of the tax department itself!
Will Modi explain how on earth would people in a country like India - where, according to the World Bank in 2015, the poverty rate stood at 12.4 per cent of the total population, or about 172 million people - get themselves smartphones or even basic mobiles, even if the banks give them loans?
How would they repay and recharge when, even in most cities across the country, crippling power cuts are the order of the day? Even the cheapest rates and installments are expensive for the poor in India! How can this be poor-friendly or even faintly fair?
India is not a country with 100 per cent literacy; nor is it 100 per cent digitally safe, as the recent hacking of the website of the prestigious National Security Guard proved. It’s just a matter of time when hacking would become a most lucrative career.
Modi has disappointed the poor and the middle class; the service class and small businessmen, hurting them grievously with outrageous audacity; nudging the naïve towards a credit-bound lifestyle.
This, to a people who waited hopefully and faithfully for the “magician” to pull a rabbit out of the hat and to make everything right again with a quick snap of his figures.
But, instead, he has become the “dabang” untenable politician, much like the 1,000 and 500 rupee notes he had rendered illegal! Now all he talks about is digital money and tax evasion.
People are still waiting for him to come up with lower tax slabs, with action on real estate sharks, on offshore black money deposits, on hoarded gold and other forms of solid wealth.
While hinting at some action against these people in as vague a manner as he possibly can, he is pushing the poor into more debts, promoting real estate and procreation!
Surely, he has lost the plot, so has the media, who are bent upon leading the nation off a cliff.
The government estimates that only about 3 per cent of Indians pay income tax. All of the service class pays income tax; they have no way to escape that. The rich can stash their ill-gotten wealth elsewhere; offshore investments or deposits.
|Narendra Modi has disappointed the poor and the middle class; the service class and small businessmen, hurting them grievously with outrageous audacity; nudging the naïve towards a credit-bound lifestyle. (Photo: Reuters)|
So that leaves small businessmen and farmers, both of whom have been destroyed in the 50 days of a supposedly cashless India. Still, the government wants the nation to believe "vikas" is around the corner!
Hell, who is this Vikas guy anyway?
According to a finance ministry White Paper, the real estate sector in India constitutes for about 11 per cent of the GDP due to rising property prices. In 2012-13, most black money was reportedly parked in that sector.
According to a World Gold Council report, India is one of the leading gold markets in the world and holds over the precious metal’s above-ground stocks, worth about 2/3rd of the country’s current GDP. This also represents 11 per cent of the global stock of gold. Not only that, nearly 70-80 per cent of transactions involving jewellery are made in cash, and supposedly “black”.
While in his New Year’s Eve speech Modi tried to shock the nation by saying there are just 24 lakh people in the country who admit their income is more than Rs 10 lakh, he conveniently avoided highlighting tax evasion.
This is in the context of a recent Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry report, which said less than 50,000 taxpayers earn taxable income of over Rs 1 crore in a country of 2,26,800 millionaires (with net assets of over Rs 6 crore)!
People also expected Modi to announce that political funding would be entirely cashless and taxable and that would force politicians to pay income tax as every other public servant does.
Neither did he admit that the retail sector had crashed by 50 per cent during his demonetisation experiment. He did not even admit that the informal sector, which is the largest employer in the country for unskilled workers, had taken a hit.
Apart from cash, gold, or benami properties, black money exists in the form of assets like bullion and shares, which finance minister Arun Jaitley, who has been renegaded to writing corrigenda for Modi’s FM/RBI governor avatars, has promised not to rub the “wrong” way!
People did not hear from Modi what immediate and concrete action he has planned against black money hoarded as real estate, gold, shares and offshore investments, which was promised much before he took over as PM, and on which he has been quiet.
An International Consortium of Investigative Journalists exposed in April 2013 that Indians held around Rs 5,000 crore of offshore holdings, all of which adds up to Rs 1,22,265 crore.
For once, and reluctantly, I agree totally with Rahul Gandhi, when he says: “Shouldn't the shift to cashless economy have happened in a more gradual manner rather than pushing it down the throats of people, especially given that there is not enough internet penetration, financial literacy, or laws in the country required for a massive transition?”
And, Mr Modi, now that you have not kept the 50-day promise, we would like to invite you to a "chauraha" of our choice to receive the punishment as we deem fit. How about somewhere in West Bengal?
Hope you would now keep that promise at least.
See you downtown soon!