Nov 21, 2016

Our National Sport

India is a land of oddities and we may not have a national language, but we do have a national sport. So the last couple of weeks and months have been filled with people complaining about everything.

The 'Demonetization' has ruffled all our feathers. We have been extremely vocal with our praises and vitriol. 
The head of our government, our PM has told us this was to curb 'black money' and money laundering. Sure, both had to be done. 
When he announced this, he spoke with the bravado of a weightlifter who just broke the world record. Overnight, over 80% of all currency that circulated in the economy were
worth less than the paper they were printed on. 

He also said about the measures that his government put in place, which were ;

  • Older currencies could be exchanged for the new currencies in banks, ATMS (and now nationalized fuel stations when you swipe your debit/credit card) until December 30th and at RBI branches until March 31st, 2017.
  • Utility bills & fuel stations could still be paid with the older currencies.
  • Bank employees would work on weekends to ensure people could exchange their notes faster.

While these measures appeared sufficient, making an announcement like this made our Prime Minister a sitting duck for target practice. 
The truth is:

  • ATMs were not calibrated or stocked with enough of the currencies. 
  • Banks ran out of their currency stockpiles midway through the queues and when people did get their new notes, they couldn't use it anywhere because no one had enough small change. Banks haven't released the new ₹1000 and ₹500 notes and there isn't enough ₹100 notes in the economy. 
  • ATMs at malls and other locations remained ill-equipped to handle the deluge.
  • Hundreds of privately -owned fuel stations (like Shell and Reliance) stopped accepting the denotified currencies.
  • Hospitals and other places refused to accept (and thereby rejected treatment) patients who couldn't exchange their money in time. 
  • Dozens of people have died in completely avoidable circumstances. 

Modi wanted to make this appear like Operation Neptune Spear. His fans spoke eloquently about how no one else knew of this move. The only glitch here is, people knew. Far too many people knew. 

In a country where only about 50% of the population have bank accounts or access to internet banking and barely a few weeks after most of the country's banks suffered its most widespread hack happened, this move was poorly timed.  

  • Surely, Modi announced this only because he knew 6 Indian States were going to the polls and how politicians would bankroll their constituencies during campaigns. 
  • Surely, Modi hoped that we would understand how he did this only with all the goodness of a tender mother to correct the wayward ways of her children. Surely, Modi didn't anticipate the surge of vitriol he would face.
  • Surely, Modi thought we would hail him as a hero who had the balls to do something like this.
  • Surely, Modi is going to demonetize the new (shoddily designed) ₹2000 note, in an attempt to catch those hoarding/laundering black money. 
  • Surely, private citizens and businesses that own fuel stations and utility companies are laughing their way to the bank with the amount of business that is coming their way.
  • Surely, Modi is going to get all those real-estate deals you did to launder your money invalidated too. 
  • Surely, Modi has more tricks up his sleeve. 

But, as days rolled on, his confidence waned.  A barrage of less than expected applause has cornered our PM and the shell has been revealed. The man who once described what he did as brave resorted to behaving like a threatened schoolyard bully. He began to talk about how enemies are trying to kill him. He might have won the war, but this will forever be the start of his slide. 

As ingenious as we are, we adapted and found other convenient loopholes to launder money. 

I am no fan of the PM. I've never been one and probably never will. But I am not in the other camp either. I would rather trust facts and instincts than PR. Hence, I have a few questions to ask. 

Dear Mr PM, 
Thank you for working for us. 
You can keep telling yourself how the common man is happy, but you need to wake up and see the snaking lines at ATMs and banks.
If you had planned this operation months ago, like you claim...
  • Why didn't you release more of the lower denominations into the economy in the months before?
  • Why does the new ₹2000 note have the signature of Urjit Patel (who was only appointed in September 2016)? Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this.
  • Why haven't you released the ₹1000 and ₹500 notes yet?
  • Did you honestly believe black-marketers would park their ill-gotten gains in INR? 
  • What did you think the other half who didn't have access to formalized banking systems would do?
  • How did you think small traders and 'footpath vendors' would transact when there is a shortage of smaller denominations in the economy?
  • Have you thought about the cost of lost productivity?

But then this post isn't about demonetization. These are valuable lessons to learn. 
We love complaining so much that if it were an Olympic sport, we'd finish gold. 

Many years ago, I nearly gave up after cycling for a grueling 70 kms in the middle of nowhere in the Tour Of Nilgiris. I was with a cycling partner who kept complaining about his life. After hearing him rant about the choices he made in life in detail, I decided to let him go ahead so that I could finish the rest of the ride without the constant negativity. 

Social media and an over-enthusiastic mainstream media has given birth to a prevalence of armchair activists and crabby complain nannies. 
I see my FB feed filled with people complaining about the taxes, local infrastructure woes and now the demonetization. 
While I respect your opinion, I don't want to hear about how inconvenient this is. I don't want you to hear your expert rhetoric about how Modi should have done this.
Do you have an opinion? Say it, don't rant about it. Give a solution. Don't keep pointing to the obvious. 

When our roads are unsafe because of speeding traffic, instead of educating and ensuring (future) citizens are aware of safety, we build unscientific speed-breakers to slow our motorists down. 
Even when we are told to wear a helmet or buckle up for safety, we will choose to not follow the rules, because it is inconvenient for us. Because it is cheaper to pay a fine than to buy a helmet.
We love complaining about how we are polluting the environment even when we make the decision to buy a car only for the mileage. 
We have foot-over-bridges, but how many times have you seen pedestrians jaywalking?
How many times have you seen motorists breaking the law? 
How often do you segregate trash? Recycle? Reuse? Refuse?
How many times have you cut the line when standing in a Q?
How many times have you supported the LGBT community?
How many times have you been honest and compliant to the laws of the land in the past week?
How many times have you paid your taxes honestly? 
I could go on, but you get the drift, right? 

We love to complain about corrupt our politicians are, but come elections, we will accept bribes and cash in exchange for our votes.

As a country, we love to complain because that makes us look sophisticated and literate.
It makes us look liberal and nouveau riche and is an excellent conversation starter at any gathering.

Ofcourse I am guilty too, and like all old habits, this one will die hard. 
But like a determined ox, I will muzzle my mouth, stay calm, keep my head down and plow on. 
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