Keep your fingers crossed in New Year: Beware Ides of March (Comment)
“Ek din keh leejiye jo kuch hai dil mein aapke
Ek din sun leejiye jo kuch hamare dil mein hai”
(Some day speak out everything in your heart.
But one day also listen to what we have in our hearts)
You would imagine that this simple arrangement of words, a polite satire on the Prime Minister’s repetitious style of one-way communications (though in waist coats of diverse colours) would go down well with audiences who have stood in queues outside their banks. Wrong. A verse like this would break their trance.
Don’t forget our important tiraths, or pilgrimages — Amarnath, Vaishno Devi, Sabrimala, Shravanabelagola, to name just a few — demand arduous journeys on foot before that moment of rapture, a sighting of the deity. It is in this framework that the Indian has been mobilised for some higher purpose. Not for him to reason why, not at the moment.
The man in the queue should not be confused with the elite who never had to stand in line and who see limited currency supply as a boon, a welcome route to automatic thrift. If I tipped a bearer Rs 100 before November 8, I now tip him only Rs 20 and the recipient, a born fatalist, is even happier. This in fact is the new norm. Economists will study the downstream consequences of this abrupt slowing of cash flow for months to come.
Never in history has every citizen been in possession of data which would be the envy of social scientists worldwide. In the past 60 days I must have asked questions on demonetisation of, say, an average of five persons each day — spread over Delhi, Lucknow, Aligarh.
What are my findings? Broadly, there are two categories of responses which, quite strangely, remind me of the Mandal Commission and its consequences. Let me explain why.
The majority of the educated speculated about black money, remonetisation of banks, a degree of collusion between bank employees and corrupt depositors who transformed astronomical sums of old money into new, the problem the middle level stores and shops were having in acquiring swipe machines and so on.
But this lot was, almost without exception, over a period of time, beginning to give Narendra Modi the benefit of doubt: things will improve. This was the growing refrain. In the late 80s and 90s when reservations were being increased, this lot would have been the savarnas, the upper castes opposed to rapid Mandalisation.
Have those averse to sustained mandalised politics spotted a possible equalizer in the travails of demonetisation? The uneducated, the Dalits on whose back a new mandalised leadership consolidated itself in state capitals, have to this day continued to sell fruits and vegetables in carts, pavement stalls; lounging between parked cars are daily wage workers, carpenters, barbers, street cobblers, rag pickers — the list is endless.
“Many of these do not even know how to make phone calls,” says Prakash the contractor in Kotla Mubarakpur. How will they ever enter the cashless economy? These are the ones who have returned to their villages only to find their banks unable to give them any cash. Such stories reinforced by the narratives of their relatives and clans grow with geometrical progression — this is the overwhelming majority in the countryside. For this multitude, Modi is quite the opposite of the hero TV channels project him as. This population is totally at variance from the city dweller in the queue — “things will improve”.
Obviously, the two categories of voters will support opposite sides in the coming elections to Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa.
Uttarakhand was carved out to insulate the Hill savarnas from the ravages of Uttar Pradesh’s Mandalised politics. The state has two dominant castes, Brahmins and Thakurs, both on the right side of the demonetisation divide.
It is in Uttar Pradesh where the wretched of the earth, further dispossessed by the currency crunch, will expend their anger against Modi. Post Mandal, Yadavs, backbone of the Samajwadi party (SP), have emerged as the most powerful intermediate caste. They do not rank with the poorest. Dalits do. And they are mostly with Mayawati. Will the formidable leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) be the biggest beneficiary of the currency mayhem? Muslims are badly hit too. Whether they will be seduced by SP or BSP, popularity currents on election night will dictate.
That Modi remains unchallenged after he made the nation stand outside its banks, for 60 days and more, would have been incendiary material had there been leaders of sufficient calibre to light the match, Hindu fatalism notwithstanding. Mamata Banerjee has spunk but no supporting character outside Bengal. Punjab, therefore, is consequential for Modi in this context.
Despite the media unabashedly playing the corporate hand, ground reports from Punjab are favourable to the AAP. Arvind Kejriwal, persistently reviled by the media, an unfriendly Lt. Governor, a piqued BJP and Congress, will acquire an aura if he wins. By the way, how is he faring in Goa?
What is playing out in Lucknow is a combination of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh and Lear. In Ferdowsi’s tragedy, Rustam slays his own son Sohrab. Lear goes mad, having been betrayed by his own progeny.
The more courtiers around Mulayam Singh egg him on for action against his son Akhilesh Yadav, the stronger will be the electoral storm gathering in the young Chief Minister’s favour. With Mulayam Singh’s mental faculties in question, the conspirators are egging the aging Rustam to politically slay Sohrab.
Should Akhilesh prevail in these series of rounds, well, Modi will have to take note of another political contender for the 2019 general elections. Meanwhile, state elections will ominously bring into focus the fateful Ides of March which is when results will start pouring in.
(A senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal.)