Funny Claims

Sweta Singh of Aaj Tak got even more famous than she already was as a news anchor with a video clip that showed her speak on the supposedly nano-chip armed, GPS enabled notes to be brought into circulation after the much talked about demonetization in November 2016. The confidence with which Ms. Singh waxed eloquent on the technologically advanced new notes made people laugh. But that was just a part of the complete video and somebody had, just for the fun of it, circulated only the most entertaining part of it. For the purpose of reference, let’s call this video ‘Video A’, and have a look at it.

It was incredibly naive for a journalist to talk like that. But then, one can’t really argue with a video. Apparently, in an attempt to clarify that she was not being quite as naive as she sounded, Ms. Singh and her journalist friends shot another video and posted it online. Before we get to that video, we might note that in the video clip circulated (Video A), nobody is actually laughing at Ms. Singh’s ‘joke’ and one of her colleagues remarks that such a chip would take care of the criticism that the new higher denomination notes would actually breed and encourage corruption rather than reducing it. So, Ms. Singh’s nano-chip statement was received in all seriousness. But let’s have a look at the video they posted to clarify the position, and call it ‘Video B’.

They pretend in this video (Video B) that Video B is just another video being shot for no particular reason, and certainly not for the purpose of clarification of any sort,  while they casually discussed the popularity of the previous video (Video A), which went viral for rather unenviable reasons.

Let’s now have a look at the full version of the video (Video C) from which the ‘popular’ clip (Video A) was clipped out, like our journalists friends from Aaj Tak want us to do before passing judgment on them. Very well. Here it is:

In Video B, Ms. Singh insists that we must pay good attention to her statement in Video C that the ‘RBI Guidelines’ are awaited and the things she is going to say is what the WhatsApp messages are telling her, which, she quotes not as a matter of joke but as a matter of fact, and which is why her colleagues take it seriously and one of them even comments in all seriousness as to how the chip is a good idea, like I pointed out earlier. Wait, RBI Guidelines? Really? If the notes did carry nano-chips, would official RBI Guidelines or RBI notifications with respect to the circulation of such new notes make a mention of it? Wouldn’t that be more of a forewarning to the hoarders? And how would the government go ahead with implanting nano-chips in currency notes without addressing the issue of Right to Privacy?

So, even if we pay attention to that disclaimer regarding the RBI Guidelines, it doesn’t really help Ms. Singh’s defense though she did not really need to defend herself because the videos (Video A and Video B) show nothing more than a private conversation among individuals. She was not on air with those claims or rumours, and was not acting as a journalist. In her defense, she was just being a little too hopeful, like many of us might have been back then. And it is alright to be wrong and even naive, and even if you are a journalist. But why post another video that makes things look far worse? That’s even more naive, if not outright juvenile. Relax, Ms. Singh. People have made far fancier claims on video. For instance, Sh. Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, who is a former IRS (Indian Revenue Services) officer. Check it out:

Demonetization: Politically Sound

Of late I have written quite a bit about the recent demonetization, and am still writing a few more pieces about the same, but it is fair to say that it is not yet time to pass a judgment on the efficacy of the measure in terms of what it set out to do. However, it is not too early any longer to say that the measure would have a fair share of unforeseen consequences, and many — if not the most — of these consequences might not be happy. No matter how well thought out the measure might have actually been, it seems — at least for now — a gamble in terms of its effectiveness in achieving its stated objectives, but a calculated risk so far as the politics of it goes.

To put it differently, regardless of the outcome of the measure, the ruling party would not be in a politically disadvantageous position because the credit for having taken on a demon that no other political party could gather the political will to engage is by itself a major political advantage even if the steps taken are a mere eyewash that do little more than put a great number of people through a lot of suffering. Fighting is better than not doing anything for the fear of failure, or, worse, for some dark, carefully concealed reasons. So, even if nothing even remotely close to a lasting victory over black money, terrorism or fake currency is achieved, the credit for having waged a war against the dark forces goes to the government anyway.

The ones suffering would readily pardon the hardship in the name of the country and for the sake of the war against the ‘dirty’ rich. In fact, a large portion of Indian populace doesn’t quite see the ‘dirty rich’ category anyway. To them there are no ‘clean rich’. And I am unsure if there is anyone in India who has even used or read the expression ‘clean rich’ or its equivalents anywhere. So, a fight against this evil, formidable colossus is unlikely to go underappreciated by a hero-worshipping people. Besides, in a country where queues are an everyday affair, the present hardship will hardly be remembered as anything more than a minor inconvenience.

True, if things do not improve anytime soon, the situation might change, but the party in power is not going to suffer politically even then because they would have the Income Tax notices they have been serving on the small fish to fall back on. Therefore, the move might be useless otherwise, it’s politically quite sound, or so it seems at the moment.

Demonetization: The Give and Take of It

Forced into long queues, a woeful-hopeful India is supporting the demonetization kicked into the works like the proverbial spanner by the government purportedly to make the black economy bleed and to bring it to a grinding halt by practically vaporizing hard cash — supposedly the lifeblood of black economy — through demonetization. We are given to understand that the move would hurt the black economy so severely as to put it on the deathbed. The common man believes that this is the death knell for the ‘dirty money’, which has been the cause of all financial ills, including massive income disparities, that India has been reeling under since independence. The poor and the lower middle class have always blamed the rich for their miseries, and the demonetization move plays the psyche quite deftly. Fueled and buoyed by his own elaborate fancies, the common man paints the mental picture of an alternative reality in which he and the richest man he knows are eating together in the same eatery. It’s not the five star in which the poor man imagines the richest man eats, but the cheap dhaba where the poor man takes his meals. The poor man is still happy to see the rich man suffer like he does everyday.  

banksSome other poor man may dream differently, and in the alternative version of the imagined alternative reality of the post-demonetization golden era as imagined by the poor, the roads are paved with gold and there is no poverty because there are no rich and poor any longer; only happy people with more than enough for everything and everybody because all black money is flowing on the roads like rainwater. If you think it’s overly fantastic a vision for even the simplest of the hoi polloi to entertain, you might have ignored that these are some of the same people who not only believed that a different government could not only bring back the offshore black money but could and would also — as promised — have it deposited in the bank accounts of the common people and everyone would be richer by a few lac overnight simply for being the citizen of the country with a bank account. To them our Prime Minister is nothing short of a miracle worker, which, in some rather unflattering ways, he indeed is.

crying-manThe poor and a large number of have-nots are willingly suffering for what they believe to be a noble cause, and while the merits of the move are debatable, it remains the first major assault on black money so far. It’s only the swing and sweep of it that might turn out to be unwise. And that’s what the government must be prepared for. People have suffered a lot for no fault of theirs in the hope that the nation would gain, and some kind of socio-economic justice will be delivered. The government must have something concrete in terms of results to show for all the suffering it has put the people through. Coming up with a list — no matter how long or heavy from the heavyweights on it — of the people prosecuted simply would not do unless the government manages to recover substantial amounts in taxes and fines, and the sum should not be lower than 20,000 crore because that is the minimum the nation will have most likely lost directly or indirectly in implementing demonetization by the end of the first 20 days.

The government is free to experiment all it wants, but at the end of the day we’ll hold it to account.

Demonetization: The Rough Side of the Happy Shine

Most of the black-monied would prefer to burn, drown or bury the paper currency gone bad instead of declaring it because of the fear of prosecution combined with the fear of being on the government’s radar for the foreseeable future. So, a great deal of black money is just dead. Not spent, not taxed, just plain dead. The filthy rich are no longer filthy and no longer rich. So what? And now what?

They would get back to work and start earning and flourishing again in some time. Would they start paying their taxes for the fear of demonetization then? Unlikely, for the thieves don’t abandon stealing; they just find better ways. Black Money would start piling again and might return with a vengeance, immune to demonetization.

Those who call it a ‘bold decision’ do not understand — or are in denial — that demonetization is always a desperate measure and not some cool-headed, matter-of-course policy decision, much less a ‘masterstroke’ that it is being touted as, the flamboyance of the announcement notwithstanding. It’s not such a happy thing to admit that your currency notes are not good enough because of black market and counterfeiting, for it’s, in part, an admission of failure. It’s more like wiping the chessboard clean and starting afresh when you realize that you can’t win the ongoing game.

moneySo, what would this extremely inconvenient move do for us? Nothing significant really. Counterfeit currency will go out for a while and return because the notes are out, not the printing presses. If they can print this, they can print that. You say “let’s redesign” to your press; they say the same to theirs.

Black money will come back soon enough for the obvious reason that those who really have an awful lot of it would simply dump it and start over.

What it has actually done is this:

  1. You have no black money, but you are standing in front of the bank for hours to get your notes exchanged. You withdrew a large amount, say Rs 2 lac from the same bank branch yesterday for your daughter’s marriage, and now you are back here and the marriage has to be postponed because you can’t get sufficient amount of currency in time.
  2. The poor and the very poor are also standing with you. Black money? What black money? They make less than Rs 70,000 a year and now whatever little savings they had in cash has to be brought to the bank for exchange.
  3. The banks and their employees are under enormous pressure and the system is creaking under the weight. They are badly overworked, and exchanging currency is not exactly what they are trained for.
  4. Long queues in front of the banks across the country means that a large number of people are standing uncomfortably for hours for no fault of theirs. It can make them angry and there can be clashes and instances of violence.
  5. The markets have nearly shut for the past two days across the country, which has already caused a loss of many hundred, if not several thousand, crores in business, and loss of business is also loss of taxes. So, the government has already lost hundreds of crores in taxes, if not more, and the loss would continue to accumulate.
  6. The estimated cost of replacing all the demonetized currency with the new currency is around Rupees 12000 crore.
  7. Almost every person in the country is inconvenienced to some degree, and a great number of work hours have been lost causing loss of productivity across the nation. That’s also a loss though harder to quantify. This loss, however, is also in hundreds of crore, given that we are a country of 125 million people.

So, in this adventure we have spent or lost, one way or the other, somewhere close to Rs 18,000 crore already. One might estimate the total cost to the Indian exchequer, including the loss of taxes from the temporary slump in the market, at a minimum of Rs 15,000 crore by conservative assessment.

Demonetization is an economic move primarily. So the losses and gains from the exercise are not completely incalculable in monetary terms, even if the immense hardship to the common people across the country is ignored for the purposes of cold calculations.

The government should ideally gain at least Rs 15,000 crore in taxes from this move. Else, this would be an exercise in vain because demonetization cannot really affect future black money a great deal. Also, it can take the fake currency out of the system temporarily, but cannot affect its future inflow either. So, like in chess, your cleaning the board and starting afresh does not really improve your chances of winning the next game; it only prevents a complete defeat in the previous one. But this also means you gave in for the fear of losing, having already conceded defeat in your own mind. Masterstroke? We’ll see.

Black Money Euphoria: The Laugh of the Jealous?

Indian currency of different denominations are seen in this picture illustration taken in MumbaiSurgical strike on Black Money, eh? Is it dead yet? Or has it changed colour and turned white, pale, cream or some other colour of your preference? Good move, may be, but what’s in it for any of those who are going bonkers over it? For the most of us, it’s yet another inconvenience in our already inconvenient lives.

To re-explain the basics, just so we are on the same page, Black Money is the same colour as any other money, and gathers its melanic properties from being undeclared, which is not necessarily the same thing as ‘unearned’ or ‘undeserved’ or ‘looted’ or ‘begotten by unlawful means’; it simply means that the applicable taxes on this money have not been paid, which apparently dims its complexion. People don’t pay taxes because the fact is that nobody wants to hand over his or her hard earned money to the government in taxes, but most of us can do little about it because we get our salaries TDS deducted. Then there are businessmen, who manage their own taxes and have a good deal of control over it. So, they do what most of us cannot — evade tax. Bad thing, yes. But they earn more, evade taxes and get to splurge freely making us turn to coal with jealousy. Disgusted, we call the tax-unpaid money ‘black’. But that’s — for all practical purposes — money saved; you might also call it ‘money stolen from the government’. Yes, bad, very bad, evil, dishonest, loathsome and all that, yes, but it’s still extra money and a lot of it, which makes a good deal of it readily disposable.

Spurred by greed, they send the black money to work and make more money. It changes hands and remains in circulation outside the books. It’s human to be generous when you have lots of disposable wealth at hand. So, the ones with black money are willing to spend a lot more freely than, say, someone who has worked hard to earn his grub and has paid the government its dues, after which he is left with barely enough for his family. So, the black-money-rich spend with a free hand, and the working class and small businesses earn more without having to break their backs for it. If there is any trickle-down effect, it is through such uncareful spending.

And then there is this guilty conscience of the nouveau-riche, who, having been brought up in the traditional middle class values, feel guilty about having so much when so many of their fellow human beings are struggling to eat. The Jagraatas, the langars, the bhandaras and the Maa Ki Chaukis are roped in to assuage the shrill little voice of the conscience. That’s more like bribing the gods to look the other way, but, intent regardless, the rickshaw-pullers, the beggars and the poor get to eat better food; the aspiring singers and musicians get to show their talent and make money to live and train, and the workers of the tent house also get employment because the tent house gets work apart from marriages. So, the rich feel good and the poor get fed. And the government gets the indirect taxes on the material used for cooking the food and other things.

Black money is also the money that is freely lent for high-risk, low security or no security, businesses on high interest rates to those people who can’t obtain loan from conventional financial institutions. The amount thus loaned out becomes seed capital for many small businesses, which aid the mainstream economy in their own small ways.

What happens when the people with large amounts of disposable wealth suddenly have no money? They would still have enough money to live well. They would still have maids and servants; fewer, may be. Where they had four drivers for three cars with one driver in spare, they would now have two drivers for three cars, which is still good enough, but not quite as extravagant as four for three. Who loses? The drivers. You can talk of the maids and the servants and the gardeners and so on the same way. The rich would still live with much the same luxury. But they would have less to spend freely for some time. There was a good reason why the ‘bold decisions’ of demonetization are not taken every other day.

While the government’s decision might be good, I don’t understand what’s it that the poor, the lower middle class and middle middle class are celebrating so gaily? Hidden money is not getting out in the open; it is getting burnt. And a lot of money that was about to be spent in your shop, Mishra ji, and your restaurant, Saxena Sahab, and your food joint, Arora ji, and your salon, Kallan Miyan, is not coming to you anymore; it’s going down the drains, quite literally.

The Black Money some people promised to bring back was the one that’s stacked away overseas. It could be enriching for us, as it is our money lying elsewhere well beyond our reach. As of now, we are just burning old paper at home. The government might gain in taxes, but your small businesses and your services are going to be spent less lavishly upon. Making the rich poor does not necessarily make the poor rich.

I am not an economist, and am still awaiting the pronouncement from the experts on this, but the euphoria around baffles me nevertheless. What exactly are the people so, so happy about? That the rich would no longer be quite as rich as before? So, is it the sadistic laugh of the jealous? For the common people it’s nothing but long hours in queues in front of the banks without any black money happiness in the past, present or future.

And soon enough you might hear chants about the government having delivered on its Black Money promise. But that’s not the same Black Money, buddy. Sorry.

Returning to Blogging

When I announced the launch of the official website ( and also the official Facebook Page by a separate post on this blog (The Website and the Official Facebook Page) published on August 1, 2015, I also said that with a separate website for my already published writing in place, this blog would turn into more of a blog with more of personal, informal and freeflowing posts. It has not really happened so far for a variety of reasons, one of which is that I am basically a very private person; more like the colour black (or may be dark grey), which absorbs more and reflects relatively less.

But, honestly, I don’t think that really is the reason for my not having made this blog more blog-like because while I might not be big on sharing my personal life with the world — which I am pretty sure nobody is interested in anyway — I do have my everyday thoughts and concerns. So much keeps happening in the world, and short posts about a few things of grave concern would not do much harm even if they do not change the world.

Being silent on important issues is not exactly ‘innocent’, even if it is not always criminal. The actual reason basically has been lack of time, by which I mean that in prioritizing things, I might have felt that my time is put to better use elsewhere than at the keyboard typing out things that few people would take the trouble of reading; fewer would try to understand the concern expressed therein; and far fewer would actually feel that it is even a concern. But even that is not an excuse good enough for not putting one’s genuine concerns out in open.

So, I can’t really say that I would make this blog more interesting from now on, but I would certainly try — only try — to write more often, and would try to keep the posts short and simple, for I understand the time constrains of my readers, if there are any.

After all, if I have created a blog, it is my responsibility to keep it ticking. For inspiration in this respect one can always look at Shri Amitabh Bachchan, for few people are quite as busy as Shri Bachchan, and if he can write his blog every night without fail, lesser mortals like me really have no excuse to not write a post or two every now and then.

So, dear reader (subscriber), you might be in for an increase in the number of notifications you receive, but feel free to disconnect if you find the posts boring or pointless. 🙂

Suppressing Dissent, Aren’t We?

Aamir-Kiran 1If you think Kiran Rao or Aamir Khan or any citizen of this country does not have the right to say that the country is not worth living in for one reason or the other, you are not exactly ‘intolerant’; you are – to put it in plain, old-fashioned manner of saying – stupid.

We have every right to criticize ourselves. And, yes, Kiran Rao, Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and every other Indian without exception is a necessary and indispensable component of the ‘us’ that constitutes this nation. So, before you hijack the discussion about the ‘growing environment of intolerance’ and twist it into a ‘debate’ about ‘Intolerant India’, may you be reminded that calling India ‘intolerant’ is pointless, senseless and mindless, and we don’t need you – any of you – to let us know that we as a nation are indeed pretty ‘tolerant’. After all, we have been tolerating you for as long as we care to remember, but then the past few years have been particularly testing of our much debated ‘tolerance’ – ‘debated’, mainly by you. But then, you already know that part, which is why you have turned it into a pointless debate from a rather pointed debate because now, after having contorted it to your convenience, you have something to say.

But then, again, you are also the same ‘us’ as talked about above, and, therefore, are entitled to your opinion, and also to your agreement or disagreement with any opinion expressed. However, no part of your right to express your opinion confers upon you the right to shut others up, which is because you cannot have for yourself what you want to deny to others. Furthermore, just to make it clearer, you cannot have your right to your opinion at the cost of others’ right to hold an opinion that is in absolute and irreconcilable conflict with yours.

Before we part, just a random thought about this ‘tolerance-intolerance’ thing. One can be ‘tolerant’ of an unwanted visitor to one’s own house, but to claim to be ‘tolerant’ of someone who is in his or her own house is simply ludicrous. To put it more simply, you have no right to force anybody to believe in anything you believe in because belief or faith is essentially personal and absolutely subjective. Therefore, one might treat your faith with as much respect as he or she does his or her own, but you don’t really have a right to demand such respect, which is different from your right to be not disrespected for the beliefs you hold, but that is, for now, working more for the other side than yours.

To dumb it down further for your easy consumption, if doing X is wrong by any of the moral or religious principles you believe in, stop doing it. Don’t ask others to follow suit.