If you looked at the newspapers on November 8 (2017) and spent a minute on the irony, you were not alone.
Late, on the night of November 7, the Government of the Indian Union released full page ads defending demonitisation in all major regions of the Union, in all major languages. English, Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil and so on. 125 crore people of the Indian Union had, as per the ad, “fought a decisive battle against black money and corruption” and, what more, they had “won!”
In a country stooped back-achingly low in corruption at every level of bureaucracy and politics, any step taken to curb the same is in the right direction. But do those who did not contribute to it pay the price? In remote areas people paid heavily; they were forced to take the long walk from their village to their nearest banks (numbering hours at a stretch), stand in queues, sacrifice their lives and give up small savings for the benefit of the country’s economy.
However, the banks, as well as the country that is to profit from the growth the policy eventually brings, treats many of these people like dirt. These are the hilly/marshy lands residing, non English-Hindi speaking, non automobile driving, non social media participants of the country. Rs. 1000-2000 may not be a very big amount if you understand the word ‘class’ but it is momentous for those who manage to save so much through all of their lives.
Should they have had to give up their savings so people like Vijay Mallya (or a spectrum of defaulters from the mining, infrastructure, steel, textiles, aviation, telecom industries) can loan our money from the banks, never return them and live out their lives in palaces abroad? Should they have to lose their lives, be pushed into informal loans and suicidal debts, because their village was blocked off by a landslide, and they cannot access/exchange their money from a bank? Should they have to bear the cross while some skip the queues and take a jet to Panama or Paradise to park their black wealth?
It is all very well to have policies with a spark but what is the point of such policies in a country that lacks basic infrastructure, or even a clean election system?
In the case of the Naga areas, the problem is compounded manifold. Having failed to bring a conclusion to the Indo-Naga national disagreement, there has been a collective failure to address the issue of disappearing tax payers’ funds. Those working hard to keep the Indian Union running do not do this so that a hole in Nagaland’s bucket can use up endless funds from our collective pool of resources. Nor do we pay our taxes so people from deep within the hills lose their little earnings in a cruel manner.
The primary responsibility of the Government of India is not to make the better off better still but to stop gaps that make the worse off worse still. For the peripheries, the key to this is not new policy but going back to providing basics—water, roads, electricity, schools, healthcare—and making sure old policies are properly implemented.
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