Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Dispatches from Hindunazistan: The Winter of Our Discontent

Listen, and I will tell you a story.

Once upon a not very distant time, in the none too magical land of Hindunazistan, there was a man called Narendrabhai Modi. He’d become the prime minister of this ancient and sometimes disreputable nation by defeating the Congress Party, which had ruled it as though by monarchical right, and increasingly ineffectively as the time went by. Modi made big promises of a Golden Age to come if the Congress was defeated, and the people believed him, because, indeed, what had they to lose?

And so, lo and behold, the Congress was swept aside, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party) of this same Narendra Modi took over the country. The people sighed with relief, sat back, and waited for the promised miracles to come.

And the miracles did not come.

As the months of Modi’s rule turned to years, unemployment continued to soar, prices kept rising towards the ceiling, social discord increased dramatically, and his threat to “punish” a certain obstreperous neighbouring realm known as Pakistan turned out to be hot air. Indeed, so hollow did his promises turn out to be that he began losing state elections, one after the other, and had to depend on an army of online trolls and arbitrary bans on dissenting television channels to bully opponents and silence criticism. Indeed, it seemed fairly evident that only total disunity among the other political parties, which could agree on literally nothing, could prevent Modi from going the way that the Congress had gone before.

It was at that point that Modi unleashed what was supposed to be a “masterstroke”. As I may have mentioned en passant, on the night of 8th November, he abruptly announced that effective midnight – three hours from his speech – one thousand and five hundred rupee currency notes would no longer be legal tender. This was somewhat significant, seeing that 1000 and 500 rupee notes made up well over 80% of the cash in circulation in Hindunazistan, and abruptly removing them from circulation might – you know, just possibly, potentially, perhaps, maybe – have one or two teensy weensy negative effects on the economy.

I had – and since I have never sat in an economics class and have no training in the subject whatsoever, it was all strictly guesswork – made these wildly insane predictions about what might happen:

1.There is going to be a huge downturn in all but essential economic activity because nobody has enough 100 rupee notes in hand and will not have enough for a long time to come.
2. People who know enough to conceal their real income do not keep it, contrary to common supposition, inside their mattresses. They know well enough that inflation alone will wipe out their ill gotten gains so they either buy something like gold or land with it or they invest it in bonds or if they can they bank it abroad.
3. Their remaining 500 and 1000 rupee notes are therefore not in any larger amounts than anyone else's, and there are perfectly easy ways of processing them through the system like, for example, *selling* them to criminals to exchange through the banks.
4. In future, they can simply demand that bribes be paid in kind rather than cash or in denominations of hundred rupee notes instead of 500s or 2000s.
5. Therefore the corrupt will be affected by this not at all.
6. In the short run this will lead to an enormous increase in the drain on the exchequer because of these factors:First, to print additional 100 rupee notes to replace the 500s and 1000s being taken out of service.Second, to replace the 500s with new design 500s and issue the new and allegedly high tech 2000 rupee note.Third, to destroy the 500s and 1000s being taken out of service.
7. Don't forget the huge economic loss that will hit India today because nobody will have enough 100 rupee notes for any transaction, and all banks and ATMs are shut. In effect the entire country has been put on a one day business shutdown.

And...believe it or not...those things have happened! Who could ever have predicted them? How was it possible?

It was possible because, from the start, this was all about one thing, and one thing only, and that was for Modi to show the country what a humongous, take-charge leader he was. After all, it was all for the country’s good that this whole exercise was carried out, wasn’t it?

It was.

It is for the country’s good that the economy has essentially ceased to exist, with nobody buying anything unless it’s absolutely essential. It is for the country’s good that people are lining up outside banks from early morning till late into the night, desperate to change their former money for new notes. It is for the country’s good that villagers have had to trek kilometres to the nearest town with a bank, letting their work fall idle, to stand in line all day only to find that the cash has run out and the bank’s coffers are empty. It is for the country’s good that people who survive on their daily earnings – like labourers and taxi drivers, fishermen and ragpickers, vendors and cobblers, not to mention their families – have to starve so they can get their money changed. It is for the country’s good that people in remote forest villages or hamlets up in the Himalayas, with neither the ability or the time to keep up with big city news, will discover in a few weeks that their life savings have turned into worthless scrap paper.

All for the country’s good.

ATMs, which were supposed to be out of action for one day, were actually defunct for three or four, all across the country; and when they opened, they were almost instantly stripped of cash by frantic people. Not that they could do much, anyway, because there simply weren’t enough 100 and 50 rupee notes to go around to replace all the 500 and 1000 rupee notes taken out of service.

Please remember that about 85% of the cash in circulation comprised 1000 and 500 rupee notes, and that to replace them you’d need five or ten 100 rupee and ten or twenty 50 rupee notes...each. This is, frankly, a lot of notes, and the government would have to do a hell of a lot of printing.

Not that Modi made the slightest attempt to do that, of course. His government had instituted a rule that each person, each day, could only exchange a maximum of 4000 rupees worth of ex-money for money (the limit has been marginally raised to 4500 rupees, and this rule, as we shall see, has since been changed in certain ways). Since there were no 1000 rupee notes any longer, and the alleged new 500 rupee note has yet to see the light of day, what happened to anyone who deposited 4000 rupees (after filling in a form and showing ID, incidentally, which must have been an interesting experience for villagers with neither education nor necessarily identity cards) was that they were handed two of the new two thousand rupee notes.

This is the new two thousand rupee note, which is as tacky-looking as it is flimsy (it feels like Monopoly money, only not nearly as substantial), and as flimsy as it is useless.

Useless, did I say? Yes, that is what I said. This note is perfectly useless, and almost nobody is using it for anything at all.

Let’s see why.

Imagine that I have 4000 rupees in ex-money, which is, of course, useless for buying anything. After standing in line at a bank for the whole day, I am fortunate enough to get hold of two of these toffee-wrapper-like things. On the way home, I decide to buy groceries. The groceries cost me 300 rupees.

So what the hell happens? When I hand the shopkeeper a 2000 rupee note, does he have 1700 rupees in 100 and 50 rupee notes to give me? Don’t be daft, he’d have to have sacks of 100 and 50 rupee notes all ready to do that for all his customers. He either asks me to give him the 300 rupees in 100 rupee notes...which I don’t have...or he offers me change including 1000 and 500 rupee notes. Which are no longer legal tender, so if I accept them, I need to go back the next day to the start the whole rigmarole over again.

So I simply don’t buy the groceries, or anything else, unless I absolutely have to. Nobody buys anything, and the economy virtually ceases to exist.

Again, this was so utterly predictable that even I had predicted it.

Another thing I’d predicted was that one way people would get rid of their 1000 and 500 rupee notes was to sell them to agents, who would hire people to exchange them. This not only happened, it’s become such a major thing that as of today the banks are supposed to mark the fingers of those who come to exchange notes (at banks where they don’t have accounts) with indelible ink which renders them ineligible to exchange money again.

Please take a moment to understand what this means. Two thirds of Indians still don’t have bank accounts. Of the 1/3 who do, a lot don’t live at or near the bank where they have an account. For all these people, what’s just happened today is that they’ve been told that they can only exchange 4500 rupees, and if the rest of their money happens to be in 1000 and 500 rupee notes...well, in an inelegant phrase, they’re fucked.


[Incidentally, the banks don’t actually have a supply laid in of said ink, so how they are going to achieve this is another mystery. It’s a world of mysteries now.]

As day after day passes by, and India still stands at an essential standstill – standing still outside banks, post offices and ATMs – it seems to have finally filtered through to Modi and his acolytes that their cherished masterstroke is a disaster in the making. They have, accordingly, unleashed four weapons to handle the fallout.

The first is the online troll army, which has been accorded the job of bullying and shouting down dissent online and in social media. The troll army’s effectiveness has been reducing steadily over time from overuse; if you have to keep bullying people to silence them, they soon get the message that bullying is the only weapon you have, while they have the truth. There’s little that lines such as “You must be a corrupt anti-national, or else you’d be supporting this surgical strike on black money” can achieve after the 20000th repetition. The troll army is shrill and abusive, but it is also as inconsequential as it is cowardly and hypocritical.

The second is the changing narrative. Originally, the excuse was that this exercise was to eradicate “black money”. Soon, reports began to filter into the media that Modi’s own BJP had made massive cash deposits in 500 and 1000 rupee notes into its bank accounts literally hours before the man himself had made his announcement. Also, pictures of the 2000 rupee note had been Tweeted by one of Modi’s ministers at a time when it was still supposed to be top secret. Ergo, if it had indeed been meant to handle “black money”, Modi’s own party had apparently been exempt. So, it started being claimed that it was part of the “war” against Pakistan, because that entity had allegedly been flooding Hindunazistan with fake 1000 and 500 rupee notes.

Oh, please. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is true. Let’s assume that Pakistan had, indeed, been flooding the Hindunazistani economy with such enormous amounts in fake currency that the only option was to, you know, actually ditch all the said currency altogether. I have no idea how Pakistan would manage a feat on such a large scale, but let’s assume that it did. Then what?

Pakistan isn’t, you know, some forger sitting in the back room of a slum workshop cranking out fake currency on some cartoonish printing press. Assuming Pakistan can manage to print such enormous amounts of 1000 and 500 notes that Hindunazistan has to wreck its own economy as a damage control measure, how long, exactly, before it forges the toffee-wrapper 2000 rupee note as well? A week? Two?

I would, in fact, love a full, audited, checkable accounting of just how much this exercise is costing Hindunazistan. Let’s assume Modi is right and that this will bring in gigantic, enormous, amounts of unaccounted wealth into the government’s coffers. Of course it won’t, because of reasons I have already mentioned, but let’s assume it anyway. I would then like to know how much that adds up to in comparison to the costs, both direct (in terms of printing new money, distributing it, modifying ATMs to handle new notes, destroying old notes, and so on) and indirect (in terms of the losses to the economy because buying and selling has almost ceased to exist). If the latter is greater than the former, even if everything that Modi claimed is true, it would still be not worth it.

The third weapon Modi’s minions unleashed is the tame media, which is Modi’s handmaiden as well as the self-appointed voice of the Great Hindunazistani Muddle Class. This tame media stood by and watched, quite complacently, as dissenting media channels critical of Modi, or merely reporting that things weren’t all sweetness and light in Modi’s Hindunazistan, were punished with bans to force them to fall into line. Now, it is being used to push the idea that, not only is opposition to the demonetisation experiment “treasonable”, but that the average person is actually strongly in favour of it as well.

Attention, media. Let’s say I’m the average poor person who’s given up his daily labour, not to speak of his family’s supper tonight, to stand in line outside a bank all day in the dust and smog in the hope of being able to exchange his pathetic few old 500 rupee notes for a couple of violet candy wrappers posing as money. Some pretty young thing, made up to the gills, with a posh accent and a designer smile thrusts a microphone into my face and asks front of a thousand other people, you know... “Well, sir, are you a supporter of black money and corruption, or are you willing to undergo a little minor, temporary inconvenience in the greater national good?”

What the hell do you think I’ll say? Do you seriously expect an honest answer from me on this?

This reminds me a lot of Killary’s alleged “shock” defeat in the Imperialist States of Amerikastan. There, the liberal scum and their tame media had so set the official tone that nobody dared to even question their narrative in public for fear of being termed “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, and all the other liberal slurs. But that, of course, didn’t change what people really thought, and they expressed said thoughts in the privacy of the voting booth. And we all know how that turned out.

Attention, once again, media: it happened in Amerikastan to Killary, and it can happen here.

The fourth weapon is Modi’s ministers and Modi himself. Initially blissfully smug in his belief that he’d put one over the other political parties nice and proper, Modi had gone gallivanting off to Japan, on yet another of his endless foreign trips, the cost of which is a carefully guarded secret. It was left to his ministers, especially the finance minister, one Arun Jaitley (who happens to be a lawyer, not an economist) to handle the fallout. When it became evident that they weren’t exactly up to the task, it was Modi himself who tried to show himself the Hero of the People in a series of speeches.

They weren’t very edifying speeches. In one, Modi set out to claim that poor people were “sleeping soundly” while the corrupt were “spending sleepless nights”. Exactly how said poor people were sleeping with empty bellies was something that Modi didn’t see fit to explain, nor did anyone ask. In another speech, he squeezed out some tears, claimed he’d “sacrificed” much for the nation, and said he might be bumped off by those who were eager to safeguard their loot.

Not exactly the stuff of which deathless oratory is made.

Modi had one more trick up his sleeve. In order to show how even handed he was, he made his mother – the lady is 96 years old – stand in line at a bank to change a few notes. Obviously, she was far too old and frail to manage this on her own, so Modi’s siblings had to accompany her and hold her up...instead of, I don’t know, just going and changing the notes themselves. And, to put the crowning touch on this bad joke, the media was in full attendance to photograph it for posterity.

I really need to ask, just how much contempt do these people have for us? How stupid do they imagine we are?

The rage building in the people has finally percolated up to the point that the other political parties have started making moves towards uniting against the BJP. Unfortunately, they are still far too riddled with internal fractures and rivalries to cooperate with each other in any meaningful way. So it is virtually inevitable that they’ll finally coalesce, in some manner or other, behind the only party other than the BJP which still has a presence in all parts of Hindunazistan.

Which party is that? The Congress. Its de facto chief, Rahul Gandhi, is a nearly mindless nonentity, but even he isn’t so stupid as to miss a golden chance like this when it’s dropped right into his lap.

And so we have the latest story by the late HP Lovecraft! It’s called  Narendra Modi: Reanimator, and it’s about the man who single handedly raised the Congress Party from the dead.

As things go from bad to worse, I’m just wondering what kind of war with Pakistan Modi will start in a desperate attempt to salvage the situation.

But I am afraid I already know.

Further Reading

[And I strongly suggest you read these]

1 comment:

  1. Interesting ways to stand in bank queues!
    How to use photocopied Rs 2,000 note


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