As Indians battle long queues to exchange old currency for new in the wake of demonetisation, what shines through is the people’s perseverance, says Prabuddha Jagadeb.
Two days after Indian cities, towns and villages witnessed serpentine queues outside banks and ATMs as a fallout of PM Narendra Modi’s move to demonetise Rs 500/1000 notes, an expat in Delhi made the following observation in a Facebook group post “I expected uproar, but nothing of the sort. People queue up politely (inherited from the English, maybe) as if this extraordinary move was business as usual. If you can intervene in the spending power of the ordinary man without immediate riots taking place, there are no limits to where India can reach.”
True, true and true to the core. Especially when the queue concerns withdrawal of your own hard-earned money, it is akin to standing in a queue to use your own private restroom. Despite the PM’s assurances to the contrary, the common man, the honest tax-paying salaried citizen, has faced untold miseries and grave inconveniences due the move’s extreme reliance on the existing banking infrastructure. ATMs without cash. Understaffed bank branches and day-long queues, hung card transactions and more.
But what shines through is our perseverance. As a nation willing to endure, to overcome and to bear a little hardship in the hope of better days ahead. Such a fortitude alone shows that this country is ready for a transformation.
We have seen sexa and septuagenarians standing in queues to withdraw their meagre pension just like anybody else. Despite assurances, most banks haven’t been able to arrange separate queues for women and senior citizens. We have seen the youth eager to help out—filling up forms for the illiterate and the ignorant lot, handing out water and even allowing others in need to switch places.
“When was the last time there was a policy measure that required, in a manner of speaking, the total mobilisation of society on this scale, where literally every citizen is being enlisted (or conscripted, if you prefer) in a policy cause?” says president of New-Delhi based Centre for Policy Research PB Mehta in this column.
The calm and resilience with which India has weathered this storm is unprecedented. It’s the stuff legends are made of.
Despite the urgent and undeniable need of cash, we have seen people helping each other out. Like the cabbie who allowed a passenger to get off without receiving the full fare in cash, the neighbourhood grocer supplying provisions on credit, the milkman dutifully ringing the bell, the maid offering to lend to the employer if need be. And more.
In communities where banking reach is limited, and cash rules the roost, this fellow-feeling is what has sustained large chunks of economically weaker people.
What the leadership must do is to thank these cogs in the wheel, the good Samaritans for making a week’s nightmare bearable. And to note that they are hanging on there, ‘for the country.’ It is perfectly possible that somewhere down the line this patience can wear off. There’s a limit to patience and if that too is tested as a result of bureaucratic inefficiencies, probably they are squandering the mandate.
The other day PM Modi turned emotional at a rally in Goa. Indeed he should, if he realizes what a mature democracy he heads, what an opportunity he has and to where he can lead this nation hungry for change.
Instead of letting the nation cry, that is.