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.
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.