Making and breaking queues is a human game Indians love to play. Ubiquitous ration queues thanks to ‘Ship to Mouth’ became a passe long ago but today queues due to ‘ATM to Mouth’ is the new game India is learning to play.
In his inimitable style, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly emphasised the need of “start-up India and stand-up India”. Today both are happening in good measure; people are starting up early morning in search of currency notes and they are also standing up in long queues.
May be, Modi should add a new phrase — ‘queue up India’. This is not the India the people of this country dreamt of.
India is undoubtedly a country of long queues and why not with a population of 1.3 billion, serpentine lines is a normal sight. Today it seems at least one person from every household is standing patiently looking for that piece of paper which says, “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of one hundred rupees”.
The world’s largest democracy has literally become cashless ever since that fateful Tuesday announcement by Modi to take away 86 per cent of the currency from the hands that toil for India. Currency is the life blood of any nation and if you take away 86 per cent of the life of person, sooner than later the person is likely to pass out.
Just the other day, a neighbour was buying vegetables using a handful of loose coins that had dollars thrown in for good measure. ‘Ek Naya paisa’ got an all new meaning after that fateful 8 PM announcement.
As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley emphasises repeatedly, “India is the fastest growing large economy of the world”, but what is growing thick and fast are the long queues and people’s patience is running out in this new unprecedented ‘Shirshasana’ or a headstand the common man has been made to do by the yoga-loving Modi.
Indians know how to handle the rough and tumble of daily life and many are supportive of the move of Modi to rein in the shadow economy that ran on cash transactions. India is indeed a country of contrasts — we can send the Tata Nano car sized Mangalyaan hurtling 200 million kilometres away to hit bull’s eye in orbiting the Red Planet but we can not ensure that average Indians get their hard earned Rs 2,000 without having to jostle.
The serpentine queues are lining up to take modern India back to the future it seems! To me, a small-town country boy, this brings back memories of when India was living ‘ship to mouth’… queues at ration shops extended till infinity and stocks vanished faster than they were ever replenished.
Today, I go back four decades ago to a time when food shortages were plenty, grains like wheat were being imported in millions of tonnes from the USA under the ‘PL 480’ or food for peace scheme and since they landed on seaside ports, the phrase ‘ship to mouth’ became a household name.
I recall my mother tightly holding my little finger and both of us queueing up outside a dilapidated ration shop to buy a few kilograms of red coloured wheat and a handful of sugar.
More often than not a handwritten placard read ‘out of stock’ very akin to the scribbles on paper that today reads ‘no cash’.
Ration shops and queues were a part of the daily lexicon in the bad old days of the 20th century when the left of centre socialistic Congress party-led governments had brute majority. Today after decades, another majority government, albeit right of centre rules and is considered rather friendly to capitalism and trade, yet queues are back in vogue.
But even in this so-called resurgent digital India of the 21st century where ‘Make in India’ is prevailing slogan the country is literally ‘making queues’ and this time it seems it is for ‘ATM to mouth’! Patience is running thin and a hungry India may soon become an angry India.
Food rationing was rampant, households usually converged at ‘ration shops’ and not at Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). Back then money may not have been plenty but at least it was there but food grains were in short supply.
Today the new generation has learnt to be patient in queues in ‘food courts’ but now loose change is in severe short supply and credit card machines are jammed as the servers are unable to handle the new digital rush.
Banks have become the new ration shops, and the talk of the neighbourhood revolves around the fact that such and such person hit a jackpot as he was able to withdraw a princely sum of Rs 2,000 from the always parched ATM machines. It is almost like the long forgotten lottery has made a comeback.
Doomed we may not be but troubled we certainly are since on the issue of demonetisation the government started off by asking for two days. Jaitley then said, “bear with me, the trauma will continue for two weeks” and now a tearful Modi extended the pain to two months.
Eyes wide open, India has blindly opted a bumpy route to a cashless economy all in the hope that the elusive black money holder will be ensnared. Indeed, it seems we are a country that is heading back to the future, as we race to become a cashless economy waiting patiently in never ending queues collecting as doles rationed cash which is rightfully our own.
The government, it seems, is blind to the fact that black money holders do not stand in queues to liquidate their ill-gotten wealth.
A so-called surgical strike on black money by the Modi government whose script is now unfortunately going horribly wrong in its implementation. On the ground it is causing too much disruption for the vast majority of honest Indians. Cash rationing was not a gift that people expected when Modi promised ‘achhe din’.