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Demonetization & The Common Man

Exploring the lived reality of the common man.

Yesterday night I was traveling from Bangalore to Kolwan, a village about two hours away from Pune, to teach yoga for a group. It was a tense situation as I had ran out cash and had a single Rs.2000 note and about Rs. 50 change. Enroute airport, I stopped by a stationary shop to buy some plain sheet of papers for completing some work. When I entered the shop I saw a young man with luggage profusely thanking the shop keeper. The shopkeeper had just accepted his Rs.1000 note in exchange for a bunch of Rs.100 notes and was wishing him well on his journey. He hurried off feeling grateful and happy. The shopkeeper was completely at peace and didn’t think he did something great. It felt like he just did some routine act. I felt a great respect for him. I completed my purchase and hurried off to the airport.

Once I landed in Pune, the cab promptly picked me up from airport. As it was a 1.5 hr drive from airport, I decided to ask the driver how he was managing after the cash ban. He replied in a very matter of fact manner, “Yes sir, there is difficulty. But I’m managing with all the cash that I had kept at home. As people are using Paytm, I’m getting my amount credited to bank. Only withdrawal is the issue. But this is for a good cause. I’m willing to adjust for few days. In one or two weeks everything will be back to normal.” I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of frustration or irritation about this situation from his end.

So, I pressed further. I said, “Still it must be difficult for you. How do you think the local sabzi wala or people in the villages without bank accounts are managing? Are they not suffering because of this decision?”

Driver: “Are sir, the poorer people usually manage their day to day living in amounts lesser than Rs. 500 or Rs. 1000. As many don’t use bank frequently, they’ll always keep some cash spare at home. That’s how my neighbours are managing. And in village, you’re not staying alone. Some family or friend will surely support you in time of need. Also, these days in most village homes, some or the other relative stays in the city and has a bank account which the entire family uses. So they will help them out.”

Me: “Where are you from?”

Driver: “I am from a village on Maharashtra-Goa border, Sawantwadi. But spend many years in Mumbai and now here in Pune. My family back in village has bank account and they use it regularly.”

Me: “So, are you feeling this was a good decision by the government?”

Driver:”Of course sir, somebody had to do this. We are ready to face the hardship for few days. Modiji first introduced Jan Dhan yojana and so many people got their own bank accounts. Then he made sure we have Aadhar cards. This is also important for nation’s progress.”

At this point I was fully impressed by the driver. Not only does he get the importance of a government initiative, he is able to link it to whatever the government did before this step as well as bear hardships for the greater good of the nation. This is the mindset of the average Indian who voted Modi to power.

I’m not denying that there is no inconvenience. Undoubtedly, there is. But I see more whining about the hardships coming from my well-off friends than from the common man on the road. Standing in a queue for long at ATM is new to most of us. May be it is that frustration. And rather than admitting to that frustration we tend to speak on behalf of the real ‘aam aadmi’ with whom we sympathise and use their name to criticise the government. But the ‘aam aadmi’ that we are talking about is more empathetic to each other’s sorrow, they are more helpful to each other and they’re more willing to take on the hardships in the interest of the nation than the self-interested middle class who speaks on their behalf.

Some are criticising the move as unplanned. Of course, it was not announced before hand. What would you think would have happened if Modi announced one month back that we plan to withdraw these Rs. 500 or Rs. 1000 notes? Then the same people will blame Modi for taking the sting out of the move to help people with black money. There is simply no way one could anyway convince habitual Modi-haters about anything he does. So, it is a pointless exercise.

Mamata Banerjee said she is joining the CPM to oppose this ‘draconian’ movie. And what is CPM doing in Kerala? When all the bank employees are working full time even on Sunday, the CITU affiliated bank employees are attending a weekend conference. And they don’t care how much inconvenience their noncooperation is creating to the public on whose behalf they are speaking.

To top all this, there are fake news printed by real newspapers about untoward incidents due to this move. Today, TOI apologised for publishing a wrong news report about a senior dying in front of HSBC bank in Mulund, after bank said it doesn’t have a branch or ATM there.

So, the truth is all the opposition political parties, media, trade unions, Modi haters and not to mention those with black money want the public to believe this is a wrong move. Because they know their end game is near. Good thing is the average Indian on whom you believe you’re whining understands this better than you.

And to the question that whether this will have the desired impact or not, I'm willing to wait it out and see what the government can achieve. Because it is not very often that you've a leader who takes so much honest and sincere effort in eradicating a decades old deep-rooted problem. But just one thing is clear, the one place where we've seen a change is Kashmir. Reports say after the cash ban the protests have dampened as the hawala money pumped in has been rendered useless. This in itself is an achievement IMHO.

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