My Depression and Demonetisation

Since demonetisation announcement, I had been queuing up at a private bank nearby to collect some cash. I had been to the bank almost seven times. I was successful in withdrawing money only once. Each time, I stood for nearly 2 to 3 hours. Then I came to know that bank ran out of cash. It was disappointing as well as makes one very angry. 

Majority of people stood in line calmly. Many were very sympathetic towards me. “why don’t you stand in queue for senior citizens?” They would advice me. 
I am not a senior citizen. Every other person is standing in a queue. I have no problem queuing up.” I would usually say. 
If government has made a provision, why not avail it” They would suggest. 

To be honest, chance of getting money increases nearly 80%, if one stands in a queue meant for senior citizens. Concern and empathy of common people was touching. They were ready to let someone go ahead in queue without thinking of themselves. But I am not a senior citizen. I have salt and pepper hair. May be more salt and less pepper. Like me there were other people also had grey hair. No one asked them to stand in a shorter queue. Do I exude an aura of a senior citizen? I do not know. 

One day usual empathy of my fellow citizens ended up making me very depressed. A young woman was standing ahead of me. All of a sudden she turned around and said, “uncle, why don’t you stand in senior citizen’s queue?”. I was aghast. First uncle, then senior citizen! To top my misery, I did not get money that day too. Can a day be more depressing?

Demonitisation, Vision of a Different India

Opposition politicians, be it Ms. Mamata Banerjee, Behen Mayawati ji, Ms. J. Jaya Lalitha, Mr. Sitaram Yechury, Mr. Sharad Yadav, Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr. Karunanidhi, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, Mr. Rahul Gandhi etc., are all great leaders of masses. But their thinking is attuned to the way older generation of Indians used to think. Most of these mass leaders cannot relate to changing reality of India. That is why their protest against demonetisation is so old fashioned, so hackneyed. Most political leaders are busy name calling of Modi, busy blocking parliament, terming every government move to be a scam of massive proportion. It is not surprising that India has seen one massive corruption follow another in the time of last government. Our leaders, however, have very little positive vision to offer to our masses. 

For major part post independence, common men and women have heard politicians speak of the poor. Poor remained  poor, while politicians, bureaucrats and sundry middlemen had filled their own coffer using money meant for the poor. Leaders of many mainstream political parties, be it national or regional, have charges of corruption against them. Almost all political parties are family based parties. Rein of leadership is handed down from father to son. Family members control important revenue generating positions in government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive is implemented poorly, as critics as well as many common citizens will agree. May be process was difficult. Yet, most people see in Prime Minister Modi a person, who is

  • really working hard;
  • not trying to benefit his family and friends;
  • trying to bring change in the face of huge obstruction;
  • offering a vision of different India to people; 

Critics of Narendra Modi and opposition politicians are not thinking like Modi. There is a qualitative difference in thought process between Modi and opposition leaders.  Most politicians are stuck in politics of retaining power. Modi is thinking “if I cannot do anything for people, what is the point in staying in power?” Most politicians are trying to highlight how lives of common people have become difficult. Modi is telling them how he can change peoples lives forever.

Since independence, people of India have faced a lot of difficulty most of the time. So difficulty is not new for them. Hope, however, is novel. People can also see someone has staked everything for a different India against a powerful opposition. People are most likely excited about change, about vision of a new India, that is why despite numerous difficulties and set backs in personal lives, majority of people appear to bear with Modi.  

To beat  Narendra Modi, political opposition has to think differently. Opposition has to show something bigger and better. Opposition, however, lack imagination and courage.

Demonetisation, Genius or Lunacy

Demonetisation drive undertaken by Prime Minister Modi is akin to  removing most of the circulating blood, that has become bad, from human body and then perfusing new blood. This is a major surgery. Doctors do it under anaesthesia. Mr  Modi has undertaken his operation of removing 85% of circulating currency notes in a living breathing patient without anaesthesia. In such a major operation when blood is pumped out, a lot of tissue dies. New cells and tissues need to regenerate as new blood is pumped in. Indian economy will also have a lot of collateral damage. Unorganised sector will be severely affected. The new clean economy has to regenerate from the ruins. May be government wants just that. 
Sheer magnitude and audacity of demonetisation move is mind boggling. It can be a game changer or a total bust. Prime Minister has put his chair at stake. Only a sheer genius or a pure lunatic can attempt this move which is akin to Produnova vault of Deepa Karmakar. You may get a medal if successful, if you fail you may die. But that is Gujarati spirit. There is no middle ground. Either boom or bust. Like all other leaders of the past, Mr. Modi could have taken a gradual approach. But it would have taken probably another 50 to 100 years for India to go digital. Mr. Modi wants to do it in his remaining 2.5 years. He is literally dragging, kicking and screaming, a reluctant nation.

Political opponents of Mr. Modi are still playing the old game. They are accusing Mr. Modi. Calling him names. Some trying to be saviour of the poor. No wonder, the traditional noise is not gaining much traction. To fight Modi, one has to be inventive, imaginative and move to another level, qualitatively. But other than Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik, no body has supported Mr. Modi. May be both Mr. Nitish Kumar and Mr. Patnaik understand the magnitude of the problem and share similar vision. Or they may be giving Mr. Modi a long rope to hang. In the end when dust settles, both Mr. Kumar and Mr. Pattnaik will likely come out as politicians who stood against corruption. 

Only people of India can defeat Mr. Modi. That is why Mr Modi is appealing to people. So far people have been listening. I hope Mr. Modi has more cards up his sleeves for the next round. Time will tell.

Demonetisation, Few Hours in a Queue

It was nearly three and a half hour in the queue. My legs were hurting. I was trying to block my pain by thinking of time when my turn to go inside the bank will come. Since the time bank allowed cash withdrawal to proceed, hardly six people had moved in. There was no sign of those people emerging from bank. A lady officer tried to console us by saying “you know it takes a lot of time to complete a transaction. Bank has to count money, verify ID, and complete so many formalities. It is not easy. We have been working overtime for so many days.” What she did not tell us was that to cash a single cheque from one account takes not more than five minutes. So something else was happening inside that we did not know. A few people went in with the ruse that they have to check in their locker. We had heard many people are using the same excuse to gain entry in the bank bypassing queues.

We heard an angry voice. A well dressed gentleman standing at the far end of the line was very angry. “Are you guys even working? You allowed so many people to go in. This is a disgrace” he screamed in crisp english in an authoritarian voice. Looked like he holds a high position. He, it appeared, is used to barking command at people. Hoi polloi like us were impressed. “Look how well he spoke in English. He simply shut the lady up. Finally some one is speaking up. Time has arrived to fix the system.” 

Bank lady also understood. She immediately rushed to the gentleman. “Sir are you a senior citizen? Why don’t you come and stand in senior citizens queue?” Initially the gentleman rejected. Gradually, rejection became feeble. He evaluated he had no realistic chance from where he was, to get money that day. By contrast, senior citizens line was much shorter. So he said “ok. I shall go.” There went our righteous protestor and our protest fizzled. To rest of us who were not sharply dressed, bank lady looked with condescension anyway. She shouted back at us, if we asked question. Another warrior succumbed on the face of  personal interest. That is how most revolution fizzle out.

Demonetisation Drive, Turning a Dream into a Nightmare

It is nearly ten days since Prime Minister announced his demonetisation drive. Since then common people have faced immense difficulty in withdrawing money from bank. Many do not have money for food. Many have sick family member in hospital. People are losing their daily wage. I lead a comfortable life. Yet, my experience with HDFC bank took me back to my days when we were growing up in an India where government would control our lives.

When I was in college I used to stand in queue to get milk. We were entitled to a quota of two bottles.  Sleepily, I would stand in queue at 4.30 am in summer and 5.30 – 6 am in winter. Some smart and enterprising gentleman would ask me, and many like me, to take a bottle for them in case I was carrying one bottle. Most often people would keep line for their friends. Some rich people would send in their servant or driver or maid to stand in queue. So despite reaching early, my position will become 20th or 30th. When I would reach the counter, the vendor would say “I am out of milk. I shall give you one bottle only.” One day one aggressive man grabbed the vendor by his collar and wanted to see his inventory. We were all surprised that the booth had a stock of several crates meant for selling in black market. Those were the days when India was in scarcity economy. We knew very little how the world worked. We accepted on face value what any person on the other side of the counter said. We were so naive.
After a long long time I experienced the feeling of scarcity and panic of my childhood at HDFC bank in Vasant Kunj. This was my fifth visit to the bank after currency demonetisation was announced. I was lucky only once. I arrived early and stood in line from 8 am. There was murmur that “there is no cash.” A few of us persisted with our line. Bank staff started discouraging us saying that “there is no cash. We do not know when cash will arrive. It may come in half hour. It may not come at all. Go home.” We persisted with our line. There was a shout “cash has arrived.” Two people waked in with a trunk. There was speculation among people standing in queue, “This looks to be an empty trunk. You fool, would two people carry an empty trunk? It is full of cash. ” The female officer standing there said , “It is an empty trunk. These people have arrived to take cash back to head office.” We were disappointed. But still continued with line. All of a sudden at 10 am the same bank staff announced, “we shall give money. Please stand in queue.”  We were all in queue from 8 am or earlier. Where did the money come from? All of a sudden a group emerged. These people had token from day before. After a lot of heated argument, it was agreed that two person from the current day and two from day before would go in. People started going in. No one was coming out. Meanwhile, senior citizens, and not so senior ones, also went in. At 12.30, we were told there is no cash. 

Hardly 6 -8 people had gone in. At a rate of 24000 rupees per person maximum, did the bank have only 2.5 to 5 lac rupees? After a heated exchange, it emerged that people going in, specially senior citizens, were withdrawing using more than one cheque. Some other people going in for money exchange, where only 2000 rupee is allowed, were also withdrawing money. Genuine customers standing in withdrawal queue were being shot shrifted. Why were bank employees allowing them to do so? Bank was treating different customers differently. There is a nagging suspicion that private banks treat high net worth customers preferentially. If such discriminatory treatment persists, there is no hope of demonetisation drive succeeding. 

Demonetisation drive has transported to India of my childhood. Where, rich, powerful and connected behaved like animals trying to protect their kill. Where powerful took advantage of their position. Where average citizen stood in queue but came out empty handed. I am sure many of these people trying to secure their own interest today, are product of scarcity economy of the past. These people know how to use their position and power. If preferential treatment and VIP attitude persists, there is no hope of any progress. Common people are getting angry, frustrated and disillusioned of authorities, be it government or bank, continuously lying to them. 

In a situation where government and opposition political parties are competitively trying to project themselves to be the saviours of common man, I think onus lies on government and its machinery to be better prepared and deliver. A decision of this magnitude needs a picture perfect execution. Otherwise, a bold vision has every possibility of being turned into a terrible nightmare.

Demonetisation and the Poor

Prime Minister Modi has taken a huge gamble by demonetising 1000 and 500 rupee currency notes. This move has resulted in immense hardship among common people.  Many people have to standup is long queue to withdraw money from banks. Many people are poor, daily wage labourer, many lost their days work to withdraw money. Some people had relative in a hospital. Some had family function like marriage that got derailed due to demonetisation. Yet, most people have acknowledged being inconvenienced but supported the move, albeit, grudgingly. Supreme court of India has also refused to put a stay on demonetisation.

It seems most neutral observers believe that intent of the move is goodImplementation is not so good.  Given the size of Indian black economy move was necessary. But this move of demonetisation cannot be end all, it has to be backed by other systemic changes. What is important to note is Modi has staked his chair for something he believes in. He did not want to beat around the bush and simply do nothing. Prime Minister has done well by going to the people and making an effort to explain his side of the story. 

Most vociferous protest has come from the political class. This is expected keeping in mind upcoming state elections. Most parties must have created a war chest for use in the election. Sadly, the money if it is unaccounted, and most likely it is, it has become useless. In the guise of speaking for the poor, our political leaders are intact crying hoarse about their own misery. Politicians want the demonetisation drive be withdrawn. Some have threatened possibility of violence unless the situation is brought back to normal. 

A very common argument put forward are as follows:

  • Poor people are not familiar with banking system. 

  • Most villages do not have any bank. So what are people living in villages going to do? 

  • Government did no prepare before it introduced the decision. 

India has 700, 000 villages of varying population density. In last few years since the present government came to power, 22 crore or 2200 lakh, Jan Dhan accounts have been opened. This means nearly 200 – 300 individuals from each family were introduced to banking system. If one family has a minimum of 4 members, conservatively 80 crore people would have access to banking system. Each Jan Dhan account is a zero balance account, it comes with a Rupay debit card and 30, 000 rupees accident insurance. 

Government had tried to transfer cash benefits directly to Jan Dhan accounts. UPA government had introduced MGNREGA program. According to this program one family member of each family will be guaranteed a minimum 90 days work per year. Average daily wage for MGNREGA is about 160 rupees per day. Government transfers the wage to account of the worker. So at least some people in rural area knew how to access banking system. Given the bank was 20 km away from their home was not an impediment before and should not be an impediment now.

People who did not open an account or did not put their money in the account also got wage of Rs. 160 per day. This amount is much lower than 500 rupee currency note that has been demonetised. It is curious to know a person what gets 160 per day, why would he be seriously affected by lack of 500 rupee or 1000 rupee currency notes? Rural poor deal in currency of smaller denomination and that currency remains intact. Those who have some currency they can get them exchanged from a bank.

It appears government did some preparation after all to help people. The question that needs to be asked very seriously, if our politicians are so concerned about poor, why after seventy years villagers have to walk 20 km to reach the nearest bank? Why people still are illiterate and what has been done to improve their lot? 

Chief Minister of West Bengal was so anguished by currency demonetisation, that she wrote a poem describing how cruel central government move on demonetisation was. It is strange, however, in her own state when people lost their lives savings due to Sharada Chit Fund scam, honourable chief minister did not compose any poem. In Sharada scam, members of chief ministers party were involved. It seems deep agony brings poet out of a human. Kalidasa, the great poet, was moved by death of a crane when a hunter shot it. Our chief minister was also pained, but her agony was directed at her own misery because her election funds have turned into paper.

Demonetisation without Planning and Execution

I support PM Modi’s decision to demonetise 500 and 1000 rupee currency notes. I think this move may not eradicate blak money permanently unless other ancillary steps are taken. At the same time many people, sitting on piles and piles of undisclosed money, will certainly feel the pinch. By some account nearly 300 lac crore of unaccounted money will be wiped out. 

Such a drive that involves 1.2 billion lives need meticulous planning and execution. So far what I have seen, the whole approach lacks in implementation and execution. For two days I stood for two plus hours outside a private bank. I did not get any money. Cash always ran out. I could deposit my 500 rupee notes on the first day. To top the misery, ATM machines were also not functional for first two days. The third day machines started giving cash, but cash finished after 2 – 3 hours. How can cash finish if every person is allowed to withdraw on 2000 rupees each time?

I am surprised how can cash run out when hardly 30 – 60 customers have been served? That too at a measly sum of Rs. 10000 per person, if all customers had gone for withdrawal of their a single day quota. I am sure this was not the case, as many people were there to simply exchange, where they get Rs. 4000 maximum. 

I am well off by Indian standard. I have access to other means of transaction like credit cand, digital money, cheque etc. I may be inconvenienced if I do not get money. But I shall not be helpless altogether. But that may not be the case for many others. They lose work, they lose wage, they stand in line but do not get any money.  My banker friend said it may take 7 – 10 days for system to stabilise. 

As I rue my predicament, I heard congress VP Mr Rahul G ask people standing in queue “do you see any crorepati  industrialist or a person in suit-boot standing in queue?” That is a valid question. When I talk to my bank manager friend about shortage of cash and long queue, he told me “come to my branch, I shall arrange everything.” I insisted on standing in queue. May be I shall change my mind if I do not get any cash the third straight day. But it got me thinking. Rich people may have many options:

They may have people in payroll to address this kind of contingency;
Rich may have access to many more transaction options;
Rich may have preferential relationship with bank. Whereby, banks may supply money to their home. May be that is why banks run out of money fast;
I heard on TV, many ministers talk to bank manager and get expedited treament! while common people sweat it out. 

I thin bank must issue tokens to its customers. Bank knows how much money it has. Bank can calculate how many clients they can serve. They can ask rest of the people to go home. If there is any leftover after serving the first batch, bank can start the process of distribution again. This may at least minimise hassle of standing for 2 hours and then come to know that cash has finished. As it appears, execution lacks imagination and planning.

India, A Vibrant Democracy

India is a vibrant democracy.  We are proud that we get to choose our leaders every five years. Democracy is supposed to give smallest person a say. In our democracy, muscle power and money power has snatched voice of common man. Those with muscle tend to control politics, those with money controls law and order. Small person who stands alone, has very little access to justice. In our zeal to celebrate freedom and democracy, we forget that democracy gives one the right to voice his opinion but it does not give right to inconvenience others. Let us look at the following few examples. There are millions of others like these:

A few years back during a political rally in one of the major cities a main arterial road was blocked. As a result, a patient could not reach hospital in time and died waiting for road to clear. When challenged, unapologetic politicians claimed it is our democratic right to protest. 

Busy national highways become casualty to protestors of different hue. Protestors forget that travellers have nothing to do with their protest. Travellers get caught in the middle of nowhere without food, water or even money. A typical case was of Jat agitation demanding reservation. Delhi Sirsa highway was blocked with logs of woods and people were sitting in the middle of the road. There were armed police who did not interfere, lest government be called undemocratic. What a farce? 

Recently, politicians flocked to a hospital in Delhi to express their condolences to family of a soldier who had committed suicide due to perceived inaction by government of the day. Politicians often do not come alone. They are usually accompanied by gun totting security guards and hangers on.  When police swung into action and stopped and/or detained politicians, there was a lot of noise about democracy being under threat in India. Though motive behind not letting opposition politicians from aggrieved family members may also be political, a few questions beg answer:

Does visit of places like hospital where sick people come, not create inconvenience to ordinary people that are not well? 

Why could politicians not invite the aggrieved and mourning family members to their offices or even visit their native place? Probably photo opportunity would be missed. 

It is also strange that how select aggrieved families get access to phone numbers of important politicians who are more than eager to pay respect and address people about perceived impropriety of government. Whereas common people get beaten up by goons on the street or women get assaulted does not know whom to turn to. 

When are we going to be a mature democracy, where we can protest without inconveniencing others? India may be a vibrant democracy, is it a mature democracy? Here a lonely voice is seldom heard. Law here is a prisoner of politicians and order is sulking. Long live Indian democracy.

Bhopal Jail Break and Political Slugfest

Eight under trial prisnors of banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) escaped from high security Bhopal central jail. In the process, they killed one on duty police constable and injured another. Escapees were gunned down by Madhya Pradesh (MP) police a few hours later. While government congratulated police for the feat, a controversy has broke out over the  killing. Some doubted why only muslims, never hindus, break out of jails always.   Lawyer of SIMI men, Mr. Parvez Alam, has claimed jail break was staged and under trials were killed in a cold blooded manner. Leader of MIM, Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi has demanded supreme court monitored probe on the encounter.
While political arguments and point scoring continues, I think a few points must be kept in mind:  
1. People killed were no ordinary criminals. Grave charges of terror related bomb blast, planning terror related attack, sedition and robbery etc were pressed against them. Atleast three to four of these people had escaped earlier from Khandwa jail earlier. It has taken two years to track and arrest them after a nation wide manhunt.  In this instance, these men had killed at least one on duty police man by slitting his throat. They had attacked another police man and incapacitated him. Some report say, when challenged by a police patrol party, these men had injured two police men using a sharp object.
2. There is police incompetence and police corruption that comes to forefront. The convicts had scaled three thirty feet walls, totally undected. How is this possible in central jail covered by CCTV camera? How did convicts open lock of their cell? Why non functional critical CCTV camera were not detected earlier in a high security prison? Were these cameras made nonfunctional as a part of plan to aid jail break? 
3. It is understandable police personnel were angry that one of their own were killed in a brutal manner. But a professional police force channelises its anger and tries to bring criminals to justice, not kill them in cold blood. This says a lot about our police force, in a very bad way. 
4. Congress party backed by left parties and MIM are trying to portray killing as akin to innocent muslims were killed by police who were out on a stroll. This is pure vote bank politics. All said and done, the convicts were dreaded criminals, if nothing else they had killed one police man while getting out of jail. It is lame to ask questions how convicts were wearing jeans and tee shirt. It is very much possible, these were supplied along with some weapon, once these people were outside. The same people that may have aided their escape by inactivating CCTV camera, may have done so. There is report, these men had shaved while on the run. So, they must have had external help.
5. If we believe the conspiracy theory of police had taken out muslim under trials and shot them dead, then we have to accept that police killed one of its own on duty constable by slitting his throat. This makes MP police a diabolical muslim hating bunch, that would go to any length to eliminate muslims. Such a scenario is possible, but I think is far fetched.
6. BJP on the other hand is trying to brush aside all inconvenient questions under the carpet by raising bogey of nationalism. it is true India is fighting war on terror on the border as well as within. But such situation still does not justify killing of people, no matter how hardened criminals they were. A mature system delivers justice by making convincing argument aided by proof in the court of law.
7. Finally, a lot has to be said about villagers. Who had tipped the police and did not allow convicts a free run.

Ratan Tata vs. Cyrus Mistry, A Battle of Ideology?

Trouble erupted in India’s largest business house, The Tata Sons. Board of the 107 billion dollar salt to software business conglomerate,  sacked her present chairman, Mr. Cyrus Mistry and brought back Mr. Ratan Tata as interim chairman. Incidentally, Mr. Ratan Tata had handed over chairmanship of Tata group of companies to Mr. Cyrus Mistry in 2012, before he retired from active life. 

Exact reason behind Mr. Mistry’s removal is not out in the open. There are many opinions for and against the dramatic decision. Many had questioned ethics of firing chief executive so abruptly. Mr. Mistry has also shot a letter to board of directors, which he also leaked to media, claiming lack of independence in running the organisation and many perceived impropriety in past decision made by last chairman. No one can doubt integrity of Mr. Ratan Tata. He is considered a legend.  By his own admission, Mr. Ratan Tata considered Mr. Cyrus Mistry to be a humble human being.  Infact, this quality was one of the reasons Mr. Mistry was chosen as successor to Mr. Tata. It is unfortunate that two people fell apart. 

According to Mr. Mistry, he had inherited a business that was haemorrhaging from several sites. Mr. Mistry wanted to get rid of loss making business ventures of Tata group and improve profitability. What Mr. Cyrus Mistry did as chairman of Tata Sons was absolutely correct. It was his job to do the right thing. It should be remembered though, despite, most Tata group of companies ran on the slow lane, Tata group has always paid dividend to her share holders. Infact, it was during tenure of Mr. Mistry dividend amount was slashed.

But, Tata group of business is run by Tata trusts, which holds majority 66% shares.  “Tatas buy institution, not business”, as some would say. With institution comes people,  their emotion, their need for a job, and responsibility to put food on table. Many Tata group of companies were under performing. Yet, overriding philosophy of Tata group of companies is to weather bad times and turn around a loss making company.  

Clash most likely is over philosophy of running the Tata group of companies. Should profitability be the guiding light or social responsibility may also play a role? Mr. Tata conceived Nano car when he saw a family of four riding a scooter on a rainy day. He wanted to do something for this segment. Nano may be non profitable. But it has deep sentiment attached with it. JRD Tata started Tata Airlines which was nationalised post independence. Mr. Rata Tata may have tried to revive family legacy when he invested in Air Asia. 

In this battle of ideologies, nothing else is really of consequence  – performance, integrity, hardwork, cashflow. Only thing that matters is company values and thought process. One can question operational strategy of Tata group, can one really question the sentiment? If sentiment is lost, the whole philosophy of the group may fall apart. That is the fight, to retain philosophy.