As the folks on the street grappled with an acute currency shortage, the government, which scrapped the highest denomination bank notes on 8 November in an attempt to contain unaccounted and counterfeit currency and curb tax evasion, tried to play down the crisis.
Most of India's cash machines are yet to get re-calibrated and till that happened people are forced to stand in serpentine queues to withdraw money from banks and exchange their defunct currency. The poor and the undocumented have been hit hard. The liquidity crunch is bound to hit the farm sector and currency hoarding add to the problem. Every cash-intensive industry, including trucking, has been hit. ATMs ran dry, and even for those that worked had a withdrawal limit of ₹2,000 per card.
Many in the government, instead of restoring calm, stepped on people's toes by making comments that range from callous and supercilious to borderline insensitive and offensive.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley dismissed reports of touts swapping old currency after keeping a profit. These touts have especially targeted the labour force without bank accounts — people who overnight found that their monthly saving was worth nothing. Children have died because in spite of the government's directive, hospitals and ambulances refused to accept old currency from the victims' families — sometimes because they ran out of change to return to the latter. People have collapsed in the queues in front of ATMs and banks.
Jaitley said the reports were "exaggerated" and were ultimately against the self interest of the vendors. Here are some of the other comments made in the wake of the demonetisation that not only lack true understanding of the problem, but also reek of elitism.
1. Arun Jaitley: Pitching for a cashless economy, Jaitley dismissed the struggles faced by many as "relatively minor inconveniences" and asked Indians to bear with the latter in favour of "long-term advantages to the economy".
2. Subhash Chandra: BJP MP, chairman of the Essel Group and media baron Subhash Chandra insinuated in a tweet that only those hoarding black money are complaining about the inconvenience caused following the currency swap.
3. Baijayant Jay Panda, BJD MP: Panda, who later clarified in a series of tweets that he understood the problems faced by the people, after a pushback by Twitter users, said that those who are repeatedly complaining of the disruption to their lives have something "fishy" going on.
It's normal 2b frustrated at a cpl of days hassle. But if u go on & on, recall Shakespeare: thou "doth protest too much, methinks," ie fishy— Baijayant Jay Panda (@PandaJay) November 11, 2016
4. Ramdev: Predictably, during a debate on national interest on social and mainstream media, yoga guru Ramdev dragged the armed forces in, saying: "During war, our soldiers fight without eating food for seven to eight days. So, can't we do the same for our nation? Many people are showing their opposition to the Prime Minister but nothing is bigger than the nation."
5. Prime Minister Narendra Modi: The PM has faced a storm of media critique after a clip of him joking with an NRI audience about the hardships faced by people, soon after the currency scrap, went viral. Modi is seen laughingly telling the audience that in homes that are preparing for marriage, there is suddenly a cash crunch. The audience, too, burst into laughter at the PM's comical hand gestures.
6. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar: Parrikar said demonetisation has curbed terror funding and as a direct result stopped stone-pelting on security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. "Earlier, there were rates: ₹500 for stone pelting (on security forces in Kashmir) and ₹1,000 for doing something else. PM has brought terror funding to zero," Parrikar said.
7. BJP National Vice President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe: The BJP leader said that the death of people who dropped dead in long queues in front of banks is just unfortunate. But these deaths happen in ration lines too. "Logon ka (bank) line main lagkar marna ye sirf hadse hain. Log ration ki line main lagkar bhi marte hain (Incidences of people dying in queues to exchange money are mere accidents as people sometime die waiting in queue for ration as well)."
8. Union I&B Minister Venkaiah Naidu: "Taklif accha hai", trouble is good, Naidu allegedly said at an Economic Editors' Conference, praising the move to de-legalise higher currencies. "TV channels can show the inconvenience caused by demonetisation, but it's not fair to only dwell on it," he added. It remains to be seen if the masses standing outside ATMs since daybreak and camping in front of banks for hours agree with him.
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