Even as Bharatiya Janata Party lawmakers have been stoutly defending Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament over the past two days over his move to demonetise currency, at least ten more lives were lost because of the scheme's shoddy planning and execution.
Not only did the lawmakers belonging to the ruling party refuse to acknowledge the full extent of the misery unleashed by the government's failure to anticipate the cash crunch and plan accordingly, they completely left out any mention of the deaths linked to demonetisation in their speeches. If you were to hear them in Parliament, you wouldn't know that the number of deaths linked to demonetisation is inching closer to 50. What you hear instead is words such as "inconvenience," "difficulties" and "shortcomings".
Even as a 23-year-old man in Madhya Pradesh died of cardiac arrest after failing to find the documentation needed to get his old currency notes exchanged, and the father of a bride in Uttar Pradesh suffered a heart attack after futilely standing in queue for hours, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told ANI today that "the whole thing is a very well planned and executed move."
Just a few hours before Jaitley said it was "unfortunate that some people were inconvenienced," Mohammed Shehzaad, a manual labour and father of five children, died after standing in a queue for four straight days.
While heaping praise on Prime Minister Modi at the conclusion of the debate on Wednesday, Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu said, "temporary pain for long-term gain" was the "buzzword" in the country.
There is nothing "temporary" about people dying. Does Naidu believe that "long-term gain" should come at the cost of Suresh Somar from Uttar Pradesh, Digambar Kasba from Maharashtra, Lakshminarayana from Telangana, who are among the elderly who collapsed while standing in bank queues.
Whether the country manages to rid itself of black money or not, they are gone forever. They matter and the grief which their loved ones must be feeling matters too. It sounds criminally callous to hear Gopal Shetty, a BJP lawmaker from Mumbai, saying that, "kuchh pane ke liye, kuchh khona padta hai." (To gain something, you have to lose something.)
To justify his shockingly insensitive sentiments, Shetty points out that thousands die on railway tracks and lakhs die in terrorist attacks and road accidents. But citizens are not supposed to die because of a government scheme, unless the BJP lawmaker is actually comparing Modi's demonetisation to accidents and terrorist attacks.
All that Naidu said about the suffering caused by this "mahayagya" against corruption was that the prime minister was addressing the "shortcomings" of the drive, and that his government had ordered separate lines for the elderly and persons with disabilities.
It isn't simply "shortcomings" when there aren't enough ATMs and banks to service people's pressing need for cash, there is a severe shortage of cash, and the government mints' printing capacity is far from adequate to ease the prevailing chaos.
Leading the charge for the BJP in Parliament, Power Minister Piyush Goyal talked about the sickening levels of corruption during the Congress regime, the systematic steps that the Modi government had taken to end corruption, and how demonetisation would eventually lead to growth and development. He referred to the prevailing troubles as "difficulties."
"For the first time in this county, the honest have been respected, the dishonest have been insulted," he said. "Despite bearing difficulties, the majority of Indians are repeating that Modi has done a good thing."
"Difficulties" suggest things such as standing in queues in front of ATMs and banks for a couple of hours and then heading home with cash in hand. It does not refer to standing in a line for the better part of the day and not returning home with the cash, or standing in a line for two, three and four days and still not getting the cash. It does not mean standing in line for hours or even days only to be told that the bank is out of cash. And "difficulties" certainly does not refer to losing one's life waiting endlessly in a line.
In Assam, tea pickers have not been paid; in Tamil Nadu, fishermen refuse to go to sea because they can't sell any fish; in Rajasthan, agricultural labourers are out of work; and in Delhi, daily wage workers are struggling to feed their families.
Even if the Modi government is able to tide over this crisis, its refusal to acknowledge the destruction that demonetisation is leaving in its wake is frightening. Does the prime minister really believe that the death of some citizens is acceptable for the greater good of all, and that any means justifies the end.
Goel also said that with the exception of a few cities, queues were getting shorter. There are no independent reports to confirm this. On the contrary, the queues in Delhi, Noida, Sonepat and Panipat only appear to be getting longer. It is unlikely that queues will get shorter anytime soon because not only are many people beginning to join the line for the first time, there are also those who need to withdraw cash again.
In Parliament, BJP lawmakers have once again framed the debate in simplistic either-with-us-or-against-us terms. If anyone raises any objections about the scheme then they must either be dishonest or a hoarder of black-money. "People want to know the great transformation which the prime minister is trying to bring in this country, who are supporting that transformation, who are opposing that transformation," said Naidu. "Are you in favour of hoarders, smugglers, or are you in favour of some strong steps."
There, however, is a middle ground, along the lines of getting rid of corruption by way of a thought-through and well-planned drive that at the very least does not claim lives of citizens.
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