You can feel it in the air - a sense of uplift, a sense that right has been done. As we walk down a quiet lane towards Banorru village in Dharmashala, Himachal Pradesh, a local barber shares his two cents on what makes demonitisation a great move. On the grander scale, it’s hard to tell what might happen but at a micro level, there is a sense of movement. “I am coming from the post office the third time but money hasn’t arrived yet,” the man tells me but he is not disappointed. It’s only a matter of a few days, and things will be back on track. “How does it matter to us? We are small, honest people. This is a masterstroke that’ll bring a lot of big fishes out of the water.”
Televisions and radios at chai shops are airing the prime minister’s speeches and it is all being lapped up. Promises, made-up promises, conjectures, gossip and so much more! There’s a group at one of the shops talking about things that came as news to me-
“Rs 1,000 and 500 notes right now but Modi will change all the notes one by one. Even people hoarding Rs 100 notes will not be spared!”
“All the ATMs will have to be changed! The new notes are smaller than the older ones and hence all the machines will have to replaced by ones which can handle new notes.”
“Many more changes will come in after the 50 days. Everyone hoarding gold and other assets illegally will be brought out in the open.”
“This is a masterstroke, India will change. Modi hasn’t even spared his supporters!”
Being a small, quiet town (which is rapidly changing and ‘developing’), the effects of demonetisation haven’t brought in as much trouble as has been reported by many in other parts of the country. Locals, travellers, monks, farmers, all have had to stand in queues and face troubles, but in a slow-paced town, there is hardly anyone who has cried foul.
Like everywhere, a lot of real estate deals happen in cash and many involved in this business have piled up notes in 500 and 1,000-rupee denomination. “I know of someone who made a deal worth Rs 20 lakh on the day of the change and is now left with nothing,” quips a village tailor. Unfortunate, and a perhaps a victim of the system, there is no answer for such cases.
“This is a good move but the real big hoarders have money in foreign accounts! There have to be subsequent steps in order for this step to make sense,” shares one of the residents. Videos of people throwing away or burning currency that have become popular provoke something visceral in people. “It would be nice if these rich people hand over bundles of cash to the poor instead of burning them,” said one of the NGO workers.
It has been an interesting last few days in this mountain village and the story seems to be similar to many other T ier-II, III towns. The common man has supported the move despite the difficulties, and although it is clear that this step alone doesn’t wipe out all the black money it has augured change. Small shops are being pushed to go cashless, more accountability is being demanded, and a general sense of equality is creeping in. Let’s see how this plays out in the next few months. For now, let’s stay with the realisation that all money is basically paper and we’re all going back unclothed and empty-handed!