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Demonetisation Anniversary: The Stars Must’ve Been On Steroids

BW 2017-11-08 18:19:00


Well..well…well..it seems as if it was just yesterday when the whole world was bracing up to celebrate the 1st Woman President in US History. It was Election Day in the US and such was the spectacle that the excitement was palpable even in India. Little did people in India know that true excitement was about to strike us sharp at eight in the night.

Years and years later, people will ask, where were you on Nov 8th. I, for one, was in a college addressing young students on a variety of issues. Putting on my prophecy hat, I remember making a bold prediction that day. ‘Trump is winning’, I said and the crowd broke out in rapturous laughter. For months, I had been following the election and I knew for sure that the rust belt states ( Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio) were reeling economically and Trump had tapped into the disquiet of the working class with precision.
 
Anyway, so it was around 2:30 in the afternoon when I decided to take my conviction to another level. I put my money in the stock market, predicting a Trump win. The stockbroker laughed his lungs out and warned me against it, but I nevertheless went ahead and backed myself on that one.

Past 7 in the night, the streets in Delhi were choc a bloc with traffic moving at a snail’s pace just like any Tuesday evening.  None of us had any idea that an hour later, the nation would be whipped into a frenzy like never before.

While I was driving down South Delhi, a news app popped a news ‘The Prime Minister wants to address the nation at 8’.

That was the first sign, but then like all catastrophic disasters, the first signs of this one too were largely ignored. Before we knew it, the clock struck past 8. Millions, including me, were on the streets buying groceries, home supplies or stuck in traffic, oblivious to what our Prime Minister was announcing. Fresh from the surgical strikes, one could hear murmurs in grocery shops about his announcements being something to do with that or Pakistan in general.  And then minutes later, I hear someone tell the people around in Greater Kailash-II market that the Prime Minister had banned the 500 & 1000 Rs notes. It was instinctively dismissed as vile gossip by the vast majority.  Some store owners laughed it off, others too joined the bandwagon, however, they weren’t laughing a few minutes later. The laughter soon dissolved into serious  pontification and in a matter of minutes, it descended into complete chaos and mayhem.  ‘This was real’, the realization started dawning on the wholesalers and retailers who had now begun to understand its implications on their business and supplies for the next week.  Such was the volume of panic calls, that a particular phone network got down for a few minutes. Some ill-informed ones were too smitten by the bravado of the Prime Minister to even worry or think about the basic fact as to how a country which has more than 90% of all transactions in cash, would deal with this severe blow. The banks were announced to be closed the next day as thousands started lining outside the ATMs in hope for drawing some cash. The naïve ones began relishing the misery of black money hoarders. However little did they know that ‘The Great Indian Jugaad’ had started working bigtime. Lakhs started hoarding jewellery shops till late in the night. It was ‘Dhanteras’ all over again for the jewellers and they didn’t mind working extra hours.

It was one of the longest nights in India and as the night began dissolving into the next day, the evening was still young in the United States as the first results began trickling in. Donald Trump had just won the state of Ohio and to everyone’s surprise, take a lead over Hillary Clinton. I had a small little moment of laughter before I entered my office to address cash concerns of my staff, some of them were labourers on construction sites for electrical projects. They were worried about their families in far-flung villages where cash was pretty much the only mode of transaction.

The stock markets opened at 9:15 and by the turn of the next 60 seconds, I had made enough money to smile through an otherwise largely chaotic day. ‘ Phew…’ I heaved a sigh of relief. The markets had crashed courtesy the double blows of demonetization and a Trump victory. I, for one, had put money predicting a fall at the back of a Trump win.  My broker called me up and congratulated me on getting it right on a day where investors lost a ton of money anticipating a Hillary Clinton victory.

To celebrate my gains at the market and to lift the spirit of my staff, I gave them a treat. But while I was footing the bill, the delivery boy smiled and waving my 500 Rs note said, ‘Sir, this doesn’t work anymore’. We shared a light moment and realized that a lot had changed in the last few hours.

Over the next few days, pandemonium reached epic proportions across the streets of India as close to a billion people at some point or the other stood out in long queues literally begging to withdraw their own money.  In the US too, lakhs took to streets to oppose a Trump Presidency. The worst liberal nightmare had just come true in the US

Today a year has passed since then, we have the privilege of both hindsight and perspective.  Our economy is in a tight spot still trying hard to recuperate. Many think it will bounce back, however, given the lives lost and businesses closed over the last years, certain scars would never vanish. The US economy meanwhile has enjoyed a great run over the last year, however, Trump faces the worst ever fear of impeachment since Richard Nixon.

A year later November 8th will be celebrated by some as ‘Black Day’, some as ‘Freedom from Black Money Day’ in India. In the US, the democrats plan to label it as the day of despair and Trump plans to call it the ‘Victory Day’.  I, for one look at it as the day which shook the very foundation of the two largest democracies of the world, ripples of which would be felt by each one of us for a long time to come…



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