New Delhi: In April this year, before the monsoon set in on parched Bundelkhand, Ajay Tripathi was witness to countless cattle deaths and fellow villagers migrating in hordes to escape the aftermath of consecutive years of drought. For the young farmer from Uttar Pradesh’s Mahoba district, the onset of a bountiful monsoon two months later came as a blessing, but Tripathi is still struggling.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes on 8 November in a surprise move to curb black money, trade in the wholesale market near Tripathi’s village has come to a standstill. He is unable to sell his produce or arrange the cash required to sow his winter crop.
Yet, he is all praise for Modi. “The rich are worried. We anyway never had much cash. We will bear it for 50 days and Modi ji has promised he will spend all the (unearthed) black money on the poor.”
Tripathi’s ire is directed more at local bank officials. “They are not able to handle it properly. I deposited Rs 34,000 in cash in my savings account (earnings from renting out tractor purchased on loan) but they are threatening to adjust it against my loan instead of giving me the new currency,” he said in a phone interview.
Swapnil Dubey, a local shopkeeper and marginal farmer from Banda district in Uttar Pradesh, is more direct. “In one go Modi has destroyed the gap between the rich and poor. If we want to see change we have to make some sacrifices,” he said.
Dubey adds that the local rich like moneylenders are now visiting poor farmers, requesting to use their accounts to deposit money for a cut. “And every day we hear stories how bags of cash are being thrown away or burnt. The rich is the weakest now and that is the best part,” said Dubey, whose business has dwindled due to a cash crunch.
Several other farmers from the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh spoke similarly about demonetisation. They contend that scrapping of higher denomination notes is a direct attack on the class divide and has reduced the rising gap between the rich and the poor. The mood is of a sense of euphoria where they are even willing to take a hit on their own incomes.
Abhishek Mishra, who runs non-profit Arunoday in Mahoba, supports the move but thinks the government needs to be watchful. “The poor are happy but the rich are finding newer ways. Moneylenders are giving interest-free loans to daily wagers to convert their black money into white. We have run camps in several villages asking farmers not to deposit others’ money into their accounts,” Mishra said adding, “the local elite also did surveys to find people with Jan Dhan accounts where their black money can be deposited.”
The prime minister has captured the popular imagination with his big bang move, said Himanshu, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a columnist with Mint. “The popular belief is that demonetisation is an attack on inequality and a lesson for the rich who flaunt their wealth. The question is how long people are going to bear it. If growth does not pick up and employment does not revive, the move can backfire. In a way it’s a gamble by Modi.”