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INDRA SHEKHAR SINGH | 18 NOVEMBER, 2016

Roti, RuPay aur Lagaan


While a leisurely menage a trois is on between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bill Gates and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, India is in painful labour. Not knowing whether we together will birth a golden future or our own economic collapse, Indians are strapped into electric chairs, receiving convulsions each time we stand in for hours in banks queues, each time we think of buying vegetables, salt. Each time we return home to our wife, mother, father, brother to tell them we couldn't get the money out today. As we were somewhere too stretched between a long day of work, no jugaad and a longer line at the bank to withdraw/exchange cash, we get a 220v for a fraction of a second.

On the third day with no money, maybe your mother stops asking and cooks you dal and rice only, if you are lucky. Maybe you get a little chagrined by the electricity. But as the gentleman in front of me in the bank queue whispered a cliche, “We have to be hopeful, what else can we do?” I realise we are helpless in front of our government. A government that does not believe in talking to her people. Over 50 people have died because of this decision, and how many more will succumb to it is still unknown. While all we can think of as individuals is how to get to the bank in time to get our money out.

But I must compliment the government, for bringing instant 2-minute noodle social change, while the wealthy are above all of this, the rich and the poor have been brought to one level. Suddenly, you see all sorts of urban people standing in bank queues in Delhi. All class distinctions have eroded. No division between men and women, young and old, able bodied and differently abled. They are all on one platform -- helpless, and at times angrily waiting for their turn. The rich may not be so happy, but our office domestic help tells me the people of her colony are very happy to see the rich slog all day in lines. Maybe on getting a taste of their own medicine.

RuPay

But as all this is happening, why has our most respected prime minister called all of his good friends to India for a vernissage of what the future of India may look like. First it was British Minister Theresa May who was on a three day visit to India, when Modi announced the demonetisation. Then instead of standing with his country people Modi immediately leaves to Japan to discuss more important business and on his return we see the arrival of the Reuven and Bill Gates.

It may be naive of me to ask, but what are all these people doing in India at this point? Do they have something to do with this current crisis? Instead of helping Indians with governance, why is taxpayers money is spent on entertaining these guests?

I am not a symbolist, but the timing of these important heads of state visits, Modi’s plan for demonetisation seems to be entwined. Because all these visits are planned months before and also Modi’s demonetisation was also planned well in advance as per his own admissions. May had already stretched out an arm and said Britain will help India transform into Digital India, the Israelis will definitely sell us top end surveillance and weaponry, and Mr Gates, maybe will give the government a program to synchronise and run India, while taking back with them the little currency we have left through RuPay. Steps are already in place to transform India overnight into a plastic and cashless economy.

“Lagaan”

But even the guise of all this unnecessary drama, another scheme is already in place to tax the Indian farmers. Depending on the political climate, and the right political opportunity, the BJP will push for taxes on agricultural income. If they win UP, BJP will have enough Rajya Sabha seats to pass any legislation into law. The Economic Survey 2015-16, has already asked for “well-off” sections of agriculturalist to be included in the tax net. I will not be surprised if the the next distraction of the black money rhetoric will be putting Indian farmers under the IT scanner as they will be made responsible for converting black money into white money.

It is ironical, in a country where 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in over a decade and the government wants to tax them. We, as a people, have still not been able to catch the culprits behind the suicides and now are hopeful to catch the black marketers and their farmer accomplices.

Let me remind us of Gandhi, “bread labour is the most honest work” and further writing in Harijan 25-3-39, said “Payment (of tax) in labour invigorates the nation. Where the people perform labour voluntarily for the service of society, exchange of money becomes unnecessary. The labour of collecting the taxes and keeping accounts is saved and the results are equally good.” The Indian farmers are already doing the greatest service to India by giving us nutritious food. They are the Annadatta’s of India, to tax them is to tax the soul of India.

We must be careful, not to let our farmers be made scapegoats and be made to pay the “lagaan” once again. It took us over 200 years to free our farmers from the lagaan of the East India Company, I dare think how much time it would take to free Indians farmers once again.

 

(A screenshot from a recent report on demonetisation)

(This is an Opinion piece and as such, does not necessarily represent the views of the publication)

(Cover Photograph by Zacharie Rabehi, on assignment for The Citizen)

 

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