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Two Years after Demonetisation

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Arun Kumar

The note-ban was a foolish attempt to tackle the black economy and a policy-induced self goal by the Narendra Modi government. The response to its fall-out is more authoritarianism.

Demonetisation is like a bad dream etched in our memories. Weddings were postponed and medical treatment was curtailed for lack of money. Long queues formed outside banks. Small businesses closed due to lack of working capital and their workers returned to their villages. Indians who never generated black money were the worst affected. Yet, the narrative that demonetisation would destroy the wealth of the corrupt was widely accepted.

 

This was because of the misperception that ‘black means cash’. If cash was squeezed out, the black economy would disappear at one stroke – justice being meted out to the corrupt. The Prime Minister said that for long-term gain one had to bear short-term pain. He likened it to ‘ahuti’ in a ‘yagya’. If the pain does not end in 50 days, Modi said, the public could give him any punishment and he would accept it.

Two years later, the pain persists but the government only continues to justify its error. It has refused to admit to the long-term damage to the economy, especially to marginalised Indians in the unorganised sectors. Instead, data from the organised sector is used to claim that the economy has recovered to a 7-8% rate of growth. This is treated as evidence that the pain was temporary.

The government did not survey the unorganised sectors to find out what was happening there. The underlying assumption is that the shock to the economy did not require a change in the old methodology for calculating growth. In that methodology, the organised sector is more or less the proxy for the unorganised sector. But the shock to the economy changed the ratio between the organised and the unorganised sectors. So, the ratio used prior to November 7, 2016, was no more valid after November 8, 2016.

Data from private surveys showed that the unorganised sector was hit hard. Surveys were conducted by Punjab Haryana Delhi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI), All India Manufacturers Organization (AIMO), State Bank of India (SBI) and many others including NGOs. The RBI survey released in March 2017 showed a sharp decline in demand for consumer durables and so on.

Agriculture faced a crisis due to notes shortage. Produce could not be sold, the sowing of crops was delayed and the demand for the perishables like vegetables collapsed. Prices fell sharply, thereby impacting incomes of farmers. Banking also went into a crisis since normal banking operations stopped for months. With industry, trade and agriculture facing a crisis, the problem of NPAs only increased.

According to the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE), investment fell sharply during that quarter. In effect, output, employment and investment declined, sending the economy into a tailspin from which it has not yet recovered. The impact of the goods and services tax (GST) from June-July 2017 again impacted the unorganised sectors and deepened the crisis. So, now the twin impact of demonetisation and GST is being felt in the economy. If the method of measuring quarterly growth of the economy is modified to take into account the decline in the unorganised sector (about 45% of GDP), the rate of growth would turn out to be less than 1% – what a crisis in an economy that was running well till October 2016.

Institutions like the RBI were damaged. Farmers, traders, workers and the young have been agitating. The government, sensing failure, has turned more authoritarian. The roots of the current problems with RBI are also contained in the impact of demonetisation. It was believed that Rs 3 to 4 lakh crore would not return and would become available to the government to give to the poor. Since this did not happen, now a dividend is sought from RBI out of its reserves.

Many identified the impact of demonetisation with a note shortage only. By the end of April 2017, 80% of the currency had come back into circulation and now it exceeds the amount on November 8, 2016.

Is the impact of demonetisation over? No. The impact was not just the shortage of currency in circulation, but via difficulties in transactions on the economy as a whole. It hit output, employment and investment, which will all have a long lasting impact.

All the demonetised notes were returned so little black money was squeezed out of the system. Black wealth held in the form of currency has got converted to new notes. People were being caught with lots of new currency. No one saw any rich people standing in the queues. They used various devices like Jan Dhan accounts, money mules and cash in hand to convert money.

Many saw demonetisation as a political move to eliminate the black money hoard held by the opposition before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. But the main reason was the constant attack by the opposition that the promised Rs 15 lakh per family had not materialised and it was just a ‘chunavi jumla’. The government’s steps to tackle the black economy such as the setting up of a SIT, the foreign money bill, Benami bill, etc., had yielded little results. The party in power needed a big bang and demonetisation was that step.

There are many misconceptions about the black economy. For instance, the promise to give every family Rs 15 lakh was based on the idea that all the black money is outside and can be easily brought back (within a month). If this was correct, demonetisation could not have worked because it has no impact on the black money held abroad. Further, only 10% of the black incomes generated annually go abroad and are partly round-tripped back. So, the bulk of it is here.

Another mistaken belief is that black incomes are generated in the informal sector. In a change of goal posts, it was argued that demonetisation will lead to the digitisation of the economy and to formalisation which would check the black economy.

But most incomes of this sector are way below the taxable limit. Black incomes are generated by only a few in this sector, like a well-off dhabawallah or a trader. Most black incomes are generated in the organised and formalised sectors, using under- and over-invoicing. If some from the informal sectors get formalised they would also resort to the same devices to generate black incomes.

Since all the money has come back into the banks, in another spin, the government has argued that a paper trail is now available to track those generating black incomes. To support this argument, data is cited on the increase in direct tax collection and the number of taxpayers. Given the expansion of the organised sectors at the expense of the unorganised and the rising disparities, this is to be expected. Further, the number of direct tax payers has increased due to the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission award.

However, the rise in tax collection is not commensurate with the increase in numbers. But this is nothing new. In the past also, a large number of those filing returns have either declared nil income or declared very low incomes. It is reported that tax officers have been given targets and they are forcing businesses to declare incomes. This will not last and there are complaints of selective tax terrorism. Possibly this is the reason that the number of millionaires leaving the country is rising rapidly.

In brief, the shortage of notes was painful and faded away slowly but its long term implications are playing out. Inadequate demand from the unorganised sectors which were hit hard, deterioration of the investment climate and the inadequate employment generation have meant that the crisis continues even today.

Demonetisation is a policy-induced self-goal which damaged several institutions. The response to its political fallout is more authoritarianism.


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Opinion

INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI

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By Shabbir Aariz

This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,

“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..

 

OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….

ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY

(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..

burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.

His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….

YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.

His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.

John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.

As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,

“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..

HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.

Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.

John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.

(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])

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Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer

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By Naveed Hussain

I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.

I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.

 

“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.

Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.

Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.

But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.

Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.

For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.

I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.

Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”

Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.

Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.

Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”

Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.

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Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest

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By Asheesh Mamgain

If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.

“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”

 

“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.

Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.

Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.

“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”

So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.

The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.

“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.

“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”

There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.

“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”

Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.

Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”

More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”

A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.

Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.

Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.

But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”

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