BANKING ON FUTURE GAINS
HT travels to small towns in Uttar Pradesh to assess the impact of the demonetisation policy. The move has hurt the poor, but they are willing to endure the pain in the hope that more funds will be generated for their welfare
I f you want to see how inconvenience and satisfaction can go together, turn to Jamui bazaar in Mirzapur.
Ram Sudhar runs a small shop here. He was watching television news on the night of November 8th, when PM Narendra Modi scrapped ₹500 and ~1000 notes.
On the 10th, he went to a major wholesaler in Banaras – where he procures wires, cables, bulbs for his shop – and offered to buy goods in return for ~500 and ~1000 notes. The wholesaler told him, “You take goods worth 50,000. Pay me later.”
Sudhar has seen his sales dip from about ~4000 a day to ~1000 a day. The market only has two banks, and cash supply is limited, which means customers have little liquidity to buy from him. He is now hit from both sides. He owes his supplier money, and his income has dipped.
What does he think of the government’s ban? “Bhaiyya, it is not a ban. If it was a ban, we would have got destroyed. They have only asked us to deposit the notes and given us time. I think it is a very good move.” Despite the inconvenience? “If our jawaans can protect us 24 hours, we can stand in the bank queue for a few hours for national interest.” And what is this national interest that would be served? Sudhar outlines some of the benefits – money will come into the banks. The ‘black money people’ will get trapped. The economy will become swachh, clean. “In two weeks, it will all be fine.”
Next to Sudhar’s shop is a bike repair workshop run by Shatrughan Bishwakarma. “Who will come to repair bikes if they have no money? I used to earn about ~500 a day. It is now down to ~100.”
And what does he think of the move? Bishwakarma supports it, and argues, “Money will go into the banks and the resources of the government will increase. This will lead to a more equal society. For too long, too much money has been with too few people.”
Sudhar and Bishwakarma – who belong to different castes – are not exceptions in small town UP. Every conversation – in HT’s travels across Mirzapur, Varanasi, Azamgarh, Jaunpur –revolved around how there is a lot of ‘pareshani’, people don’t have access to their own money, and daily expenditure has got affected. Yet, most conversations also ended with how ‘Modiji’– and this policy measure is identified completely with the PM rather than the government – has done the right thing.
THE IMPULSES FOR SUPPORT ARE VARIED. SOME HAVE FAITH IN THE PM’S COMMITMENT TO REMOVE BLACK MONEY. MANY OTHERS ARE DRIVEN BY THE DEEP DESIRE TO SEE THE ‘AMEER SETH’ PUNISHED.
THE INTANGIBLE GOOD Many, it appears, are willing to go through immediate tangible suffering for intangible future good. The impulses for support are varied. Some have faith in Modi’s commitment to remove black money. Some hope this will generate money for welfare. Some believe it will eventually lead to a drop in prices and corruption. Others think it will lead to social equality. Yet others are driven by the deep desire to see the ‘ameer seth’ punished.
At the Bihari Dhaba near Mirzapur’s Chunar bus stand, Chhotedhar explains to me his reasons for supporting the move. “There is temporary pain. But in a month or two, notes will start coming in. The money that will be collected from the rich will then be invested in the poor.”
Would people connect with Modi, or get irritated with him? Chhotedhar replied, “Thirty per cent will get irritated and 70 per cent will be with him. I am with BSP but this is good work.”
Up ahead in Mirzapur district was the Rajgadh bazaar. At the Kisan Degree Inter College, the school hall was being used as a wedding venue.
Amit Patel was sitting outside. His brother-in-law’s daughter was getting married. “We made some payments by cheque, and took some things on credit. I think this move will reduce EMIs. Real estate value will come down.”
Similar sentiments were at play in other districts. In a long bank queue in Jaunpur, an old lady – who had been waiting for four hours – said the decision had badly affected her. She did not even have enough money at home. So was the government wrong? She immediately responded, “No. If big, big people are troubled, how does it matter if I am troubled?”
Another woman, in the same queue, agreed and said that they were mere workers; by bringing out the money of the really rich, the government was correct. “They had kept money by suppressing the poor. So what if we are a little troubled?” NOTES OF DISSENT Patience however is not infinite. Sechu Ram is a labourer in Delhi’s Azadpur mar- ket. Back home in his village in Azamgarh, Ram is angry with Modi.
His wife speaks up. “If we exchange money also, they give us 2000. What will I do with that big note? The government is wrong.” When asked if this would help remove black money, “How do we in villages know what is black money? What does it mean?”
Lalitesh Pati Tripathi is the Congress MLA from Mirzapur’s Marihan – a rural constituency. Tripathi argues that the timing of the move has upset farmers. “This is the most cash-intensive time of the agricultural calendar. They need money for seeds, fertilisers, and daily labour.”
Those who are at the front-lines of effecting of India’s monetary revolution are worried too.
Prakash is the branch manager of Union Bank of India at Bajrangnagar of Jaunpur. He is giving out a maximum of ₹2000 to customers.
Why? The manager explains he has not received a single new ₹500 note and has very limited quantities of ₹2000 notes. “If I start giving out money according to the limits, I will be able to serve only six to ten people.” The branch has 40,000 accounts and caters to rural pockets. Prakash says, “People have been patient till now, but it can break at any point. We need to restore the cash supply immediately.”
His point is echoed by a senior UP police official. The official warns, “If the chaos persists, if people get angry, if we cannot control crowds, if there is even one incident of firing, then the situation can deteriorate into a security nightmare.”
Despite the urgency of improving the situation, the overwhelming sentiment one captures in east UP is of the extraordinary patience of some of India’s poorest citizens.
In UP, society is willing to be tested for 30-50 days by the state. But after that, society will begin testing the state,
2 and Modi’s staggeringly ambitious promise of an economically cleaner India.
SECHU RAM (left), Azamgarh Dalit labourer I have been running around to deposit my money. I have had a lot of trouble in organising my niece's wedding. Modiji has harassed poor people like me. I am angry with him.
MANNA DEVI, Jaunpur Homemaker I am troubled. But the government has done the right thing. The rich, who have made money by suppressing the poor, are the ones who are suffering more than us
RAM SUDHAR (right) & Shatrughan Bishwakarma, Mirzapur. Shopkeepers, who have seen a drop in sales They have only asked us to deposit the notes and given us time to do so. I think it is a very good move. The economy will become swacch, clean. In two weeks, it will all be fine.
RAMESH YADAV, Varanasi Farmer I have been standing in the queue for four hours. I need cash for seeds and fertilisers. I am troubled but those who have kept money hidden are scared.