The Echo Chambers: Demonetization

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demon

When Modi said that he was going to announce something important to the nation at eight, I thought, it could be only one of two things. That he wanted to do a review of Sultan of Delhi. Or that he was going to enter the Big Boss House. Instead he demonetized 500 and 1000 rupee notes, and it seemed that his election promise of depositing 15 lacs of black money in every bank account was coming true, except that it was not someone else’s black money in your account, which is what people thought, but your own black money in your own account, and this is what happens when you don’t go over the fine print.

Over the next few days, I have sought to write my two five hundred rupee notes about demonetization, but I have been told I should not, because I am a NRI, and what would I know. I was told this by the very same people who in India have strong opinions on Donald Trump and white privilege, and who refuse to accept Donald Trump as their president, perhaps because their president is Pranab Mukherjee. So I have decided to shut up, and also because I am not really an economist, and this, seems something that only specialists can be seriously expected to evaluate.

But what I find truly worth commenting on, is media—both mainstream and social. Depending on which channel you are watching or which friend’s status update shows up in your News Feed, you get diametrically opposite truths. So if you are watching Zee, Ram Rajya has been established and people are singing and dancing on the streets like extras in “Awwal Number”, and if you are watching NDTV, it’s the opening episode of Walking Dead. Of course some media figures do it better than the other. Sardesai for one goes to his own bank, tries to rile up the employees, even calling them kaamchor to their face, and also the customers, but fails spectacularly, as each and every person seems happy and supportive of the measure. Ravish, the second single-name journalist of the AAP (the first being Ashutosh) does a much more competent job of bringing out the apocalypse that he wants demonetization to be, by travelling outside his own bank, which makes him

The last sentence was not incomplete by the way, I just mimed the last few words.

But the media. We always knew they were like this. But people? On my time-line, there is a group, who call doomsday every day in order to validate their anger at their person not winning in 2014, for whom  that no matter what the Prime Minister does, it’s genocide. And there is another group that no matter what the Prime Minister does, it is like Raveena Tandon dancing in the rain.

There is no middle ground.

And both sides have their rhetorical devices.

If you are complaining that the queues are large, well didn’t you stand in line for two hours to buy tickets for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and don’t even talk of free choice. And then there is the “imagine the hardship the army is going through” argument, which is what I have been telling my wife all these years of marriage, every time I have farted in bed, post an intense shorshe-maach dinner.

Powerful stuff.

For the other side, the safe word is “privilege”. Show them opinion, show them facts, show them whatever you can, but nothing you say will be accepted, because you have upper-class privilege. They obviously don’t, despite being on Facebook posting 100 sari challenge and checking into first class airport lounges, which is why they are receptive to the pains of the common man. They may not let their hired help sit on their sofa or not turn on the fan for them, (not that you would know from their social media feed) and they may deduct wages for an absent day, but come a firmaan from Modi, and they cannot sleep because they are concerned for the cash situation of the people that work for them. And villages, we must not forget villages, and these people are immensely aware of villages, because they go out to Hauz Khas village every now and then, and wear ethnic jewelry from Delhi Haat. However when shown a video of the aforementioned common man not complaining, but instead saying they are prepared to do this for the nation and they realize the larger importance of demonetization, watch the very same people sneer at “stupid nationalism” of the simple-minded unwashed, unaware to accept the humanity of those not cynical like them. Either that or wave them away as a Bhakt.

Because when all fails, it is “Bhakt”, the liberal version of “Congi presstitute”. That and NRI, and preferably both together.

The way, this privileged NRI sees it (you didn’t think I wasn’t going to talk about it now, did you?), is that demonetization is a bold move. Yes. Significant amounts of unaccounted for money is kept in cash, because unlike buying gold or property, it does not involve another party, and so introduce a weak link in your chain of secrecy. That is why Pablo Escobar kept notes in rubberbands underground. That is why any illegal transaction, be it for your second hand car or your apartment, has a significant “off the books” cash part. That is why crores are being deposited in the border areas of Bengal (link) and that is perhaps why Mamata Banerjee so hates demonetization that she is ready to join hands with the CPM, in a Saruman-Sauron-type alliance for the One Ring.

Demonetization is also a grossly mismanaged move, and it is one where the higher you are in the social scheme of things, the less inconvenienced you are, and it disproportionately, by it’s very nature, affects marginalized sections (daily laborers, prostitutes, small merchants like fish-vendors) more than others. That also is undeniable. There are also more esoteric objections, namely on the limitations on the power of the government, and these are good conversations and debates to have, but then, that’s not we see on social and rarely on mainstream media.

Instead, depending on whose status has shown up top of your feed, we see only one side. Not only that, it is not even true. Factually. So it is said that Vijay Mallaya is being spared, that the government has given up on getting money back from him, which is absolutely not correct, but it doesn’t matter any more, no matter what facts are presented to counter it, because it’s on my News Feed and shared and commented on. It is said that more than fifty people died due to demonetization, and when a journalist from BBC points that out, yes the effing BBC, he is effectively accused of being a shill of the BJP, no not by your friend with the “Free Binayak Sen” banner from 2011, but a Chief Minister of a state. As the leaders do, the followers follow, and you can see the cascade effect on people of a particular persuasion, many publicly AAP and many not,  still wanting to believe they are living under the Third Reich, and warping the world to suit that narrative. On the other side, are those that believe Modi is the greatest thing since dhokla, who will consistently, and with an equally closed mind, present their alternate reality as the truth, and if the facts are not enough, there are pictures, and as the ancient Chinese proverb goes “A photoshopped picture is worth a thousand words.”

This echo-chambering of media, mainstream and social, has gotten worse over the past two years. This of course reflects a global trend. The current US election is being called as the one settled by “fake news sites” shared on Facebook. and as more and more people get their news primarily from Facebook and social media. One can see the same malaise reflected in Indian media spaces, as both mainstream and social media become more shrill, partisan and absolutely one-sided.

And truth is, to paraphrase a line from Sultan of Delhi, no longer what happened, but what sufficient number of people would like to believe happened.

Truly bad news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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27 thoughts on “The Echo Chambers: Demonetization

  1. Well said Dada! The current national discourse brands one as a bhakt or congi/khujli/porki supporter. There is no middle ground as you rightly said. This is post-truth politics at its finest in India (as well as the US).

      • I avoid writing about day-job things on my blog. Don’t want to conflate the two. I have in the past spoken at forums on cybersecurity and I have tweeted about my appearances. If interested in my work, please read my academic papers, and if possible, attend one of my technical events.

  2. You know what’s really wrong? Facebook (and now even Twitter, unless you’re using third party apps like Tweetbot) tailors your news feed to show you more of the stuff you LIKE to read instead of everything. And just imagine how many people rely on Facebook for their daily news fix instead of anything else.

    There are problems with the PM’s decision. Genuine problems that need to be addressed but no one actually cares. What they care about it how much political mileage they can get from the citizens’ inconvenience. And on top of that you have “verified” Twitter users irresponsibly tweeting shit like this (http://imgur.com/a/xj4sV) because verifying and finding out it’s lies doesn’t help their cause and who would actually put an effort in verifying anything, right?

    The world has never been more binary.

  3. This is a bold move. And definitely doing some cleansing. There are few things that I dont think anyone knows.

    1. What would be the impact of this act in long term in Indian economy? The unaccounted cash is also wealth and this is essentially state-sponsored destruction of wealth. Not saying good or bad. But I don’t think we know the long term impact.

    2. I don’t understand how this will end corruption. My father has few crores in his mattress. We have started putting the money into different accounts (yes, we have a plan). We are not fucked just inconvenienced by this move. Worse case scenario, we pay tax and penalty.
    But how will this move stop anyone from hoarding black money with new notes? In my family, we are already planning to keep black money into dollars and pounds.

  4. Since now I am entrusted to look after your ancestral properties in a village somewhere in Birbhum, I have gained the authority to let you know that there is no problem of cash in that village( which doesn’t have a bank to begin with) because majority of the jobs are done on credit throughout the year barring the harvest and sowing sessions. Having said that, now there will be need for cash as the harvest and sowing session just begun. Realizing the severity of the need for cash in sowing/harvesting session, the Govt by now has announced many measures to ebb the crisis. Of course the implementation part is to be seen and then the fruition of that policy will be known.
    Sara Ray

  5. I insist you watch a movie called rashomon….there never was anyone 100% truthful or bhakt or congi…What we need to find is which mob is less culprit ? And if you truthfully seek the answer, you shall receive it! yes, it’s modi!

  6. Got cute girls flirting & ogling me outside bank queues. Met interesting people in my locality. But local businesses have deferred purchases. Modi must do something to revitalize businesses. And stop rogue people from taking huge loans from bank again. Its still early to deduct any outcome. Btw , what’s your dad’s view….

  7. Dada 10 bochor dhore tomar blog porchi…. Raveena Tandon er reference dite tumi charo na 😀 I can understand being one of those growing up in 90s 😀

  8. “I came to know that Mr. Guha opposes a ban on alcohol imposed by Nitish, and instead favors high taxes, the principle being to price the poor out of the market. Realistically though, higher prices would not stop a drunk from drinking, it would just make him even more desperate for money and more prone to abusing his family and engaging in crimes. On the other hand, higher taxes would have no effect on the elites, who presumably wont care whether there is a cess of 120 pc or 150 pc on their Scotch. Not this should be of any concern. As we know, the elites never do bad things when they are drunk, and a number of pavement dwellers outside Best Bakery in Bandra can attest to that”

    Following the logic if higher prices on alcohol make the drunk more desperate for liquor then imposing higher price on having black money(via demonetization) would make the the holder more desperate to conceal/or be innovative in ways he generates it.

    You argued(badly) against about a blunt policy instrument that disproportionately affected the poor (whether its true or not) but here is a policy instrument that has majorly hurt the poor and you play up the opinions differ about the shape of earth card.

    Wonder who has the intellectual blinders on !

  9. My pesonal emotional rant:

    I started out a standard issue, middle class (educated working class really) Bengali boy, circa early 1970s, son of a prabashi. Grew up with close to no material wealth (as in shoes, clothes … the kind of things that matter to a kid), saw my “Panjabi Businessman’s son” live a life that I could only envy. Ofcourse, I had the pleasure of “higher values” all my student life. Frankly, today, with wealth on my side, I can actually appreciate those values, but in my childhood, I hated them, from the bottom of my heart.

    Worked by back out, flat out > 2 decades, never missed a penny in tax and yet achieved a level of income that puts me on the same supper table as said Panjabi Businessmen’s progeny, albeit with a TDS salaried income. It didn’t come easy, my health in my mid forties is screwed up, so is the wife’s, we made other sacrifices on the way. However, from wondering how will we pay the taxi fare to get home when we missed the last local train at Mumbai in the early 2000s to having a car for every adult member of the family, we have covered a bit of distance. Its our choice and we have no regrets.

    Modi ji suddenly stopped me from withdrawing my OWN money, POST TDS (tax dedutcted at source) All in the name of nationalism. In one stroke, he made me equal to the day laborer, in terms of immediate cash in hand. Fair enough. A lesson well learnt. I have a long memory.

    • My parnoid rant:

      IMHO, the assurance that when you push in a valid ATM card in a working ATM with the correct PIN / Passcode, said ATM will spew the desired cash (subject to statutory daily limits) as long as you have money in your account, is one of the most sacred contracts of modern society. In my mind, it ranks right up there with the belief that if you protest against the government of the day, no matter how vehemently, as long as you are not leading an armed rebellion, the government of the day will not turn its army on you.

      I have never, ever, heard of any civilized government, stop a citizen from withdrawing his / her own money, from the ATM. This is something you expect of the warlords of Somalia etc. or the Chinese government who ran battle tanks over their citizens at Tianhammen back in the day.

      A government that stops you from accessing your own bank deposits, is only this much away from asking you to give up your Gold holdings, land banks et al., temporarily, in the name of nationalism. Not through surgical strikes on those suspected to have assets disproportionate to their known sources of income, but rather by the maxim, “guilty till proven innocent”.

      • You don’t have to introduce yourself or your background to convince reasonable people that this government is totalitarian and we are living in a dictatorship. Going after gold is gong to happen soon, as well as forced repatriation of all legal foreign assets (like tax-paid bank balance in UK or USA etc.). I don’t think the desperation arises out of nationalism, terrorism, black money or other such bogeymen. I think nationalized banks were within a week of complete massacre. Chances are, they will still go belly-up within February. This is just a shotgun bailout. Whereas the USD is the world’s one fiat currency and can do bailouts by uncontrolled procreation (since 2008), the INR has to get out of the hands of losers like you and me and into the hands of Mallya and his like.

    • Couple of corrections please:

      Please read

      1) “saw my “Panjabi Businessman’s son” ” as “saw my “Panjabi Businessman’s son” friends”

      2) “Worked by back out” as “Worked my back out”

      Sorry, typos.

  10. Well said. Mere Mann Ki baat. One need not be a Bhakt or a Presstitude – think independentally and have your own views – not parrot those of your masters.
    You always manage to find the ideal middle ground and give a balanced perspective

  11. ‘For the other side, the safe word is “privilege”. Show them opinion, show them facts, show them whatever you can, but nothing you say will be accepted, because you have upper-class privilege. ‘ this saying was perfect, I’m writing a demonetisation essay and would love to use this in my writing. Thanks a lot!

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