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Narendra ‘Indira’ Modi? PM seeks to champion the poor with his black money campaign

With his move to demonetise high-value notes and his high-decibel rhetoric against the corrupt and the rich, Narendra Modi seeks to snatch Indira Gandhi’s pallu away from her daughter-in-law and drape it over his own head. He has turned, overnight, champion of the poor, class warrior par excellence.

He has found a non-sectarian political platform and given the populace at large the satisfaction of vicarious participation in the class struggle against the decadent rich. Their role is to willingly stand in queue for endless hours in front of a bank or an ATM, cursing the banks, the tax evaders, the bania and the fellow behind who’s elbowing them in the small of the back, but praising Modi for his bold sagacity while telling themselves that this inconvenience is nothing compared to the pain it inflicts on the filthy rich being stripped of their ill-gotten cash.

It’s All Politics

Modi’s relations with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is in a different league from Indira’s with the Syndicate, but the anti-rich campaign, if it takes off, would give Modi some additional degrees of freedom in relation to the mother organisation, just as the Garibi Hatao campaign did for Indira Gandhi.

What could go wrong with the strategy? Not that it is based entirely on fiction. No politician has lost anything overestimating the ability of the electorate to fool itself. The possibility that the Opposition would succeed in exposing the hollowness of the anti-black money claims of demonetisation looks remote. The issues are conceptually complex, politicians who have the capacity to deconstruct the scheme and demonstrate its ultimate futility in a manner that the common man understands are scarce. Most people would give Modi the benefit of the doubt.

What could go wrong is just one thing: the money supply would not be restored fast enough to prevent lasting damage. If the rabi sowing is disrupted, or small businesses fail because they just lack the staying power to suffer loss of business for a month, the personal cost it would entail would outweigh by far the satisfaction of seeing the rich shafted.

Why take this risk, and launch the demonetisation scheme before new printed notes are available in adequate quantities? If new notes could be exchanged for old ones without hassle, there would be no drama and no pain. Without feeling the pain, how would people feel they are part of the Modi-led struggle against hoarders of filthy lucre?

If Gandhiji had merely called upon Indians to forsake foreign cloth and had not demanded that they spin by hand the yarn that would displace British mill cloth, popular involvement in the freedom struggle would not have been as intense as it was. The Sangh Parivar is good at thinking up activity low on effort but high on emotive involvement for the masses to take part in. Getting people to consecrate bricks in every village and lug them over to Ayodhya for building a Ram temple was a clever way to convert the merely pious into collaborators in the bloody campaign to tear down the mosque.

Non-Sectarian Platform

Another explanation for the timing of the move is UP. Modi has to win the upcoming assembly elections, if he is to get another term at the Centre. The Dalits and the Muslims have turned against the BJP, and these together account for nearly 40% of the state’s electorate. The Sangh Parivar would continue to polarise voters, hailing those arrested for the murder of a man suspected of storing beef in his fridge as heroes, spreading rumours about Hindu flight from Kairana, etc. But Modi feels the need for yet another string to his bow: enter class war, with Modi leading the charge, fancy suit bearing his gilded name a distant memory.

There is yet another similarity with Indira Gandhi’s Garibi Hatao campaign. Demonetisation will prove to be just as hollow and ineffective. It serves a political rather than an economic objective.

#Vaw" data-image-description="<div class="row hidden-print"><img id="image-hero" class="col-xs-12" src="" /></div> <section class="row article-big-img-headline"> <header class="col-sm-8"> <h1></h1> </header> </section> <section class="row"> <aside id="sharing" class="col-sm-2 text-center sticky hidden-print"> <section id="story-info"> <h2><a href="">By Ariel Sophia Bardi</a></h2> <p><small></small></section> <div class="sharing-buttons"></div> </aside> <div id="article-content" class="col-sm-10 col-md-6 body-text-all"><span class="caption-top">One of the alternative images developed by <a class="zem_slink" title="Designer" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia noopener">designers</a> to depict <a class="zem_slink" title="Assault" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia noopener">assault</a> in <a class="zem_slink" title="India" href=",77.2083333333&amp;spn=0.1,0.1&amp;q=28.6133333333,77.2083333333 (India)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation noopener">India</a>. Courtesy of Breakthrough India.</span><strong>ON A BALMY SUNDAY</strong> in April, a few dozen designers sat at a pub in <a class="zem_slink" title="South Delhi" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia noopener">South Delhi</a> scrutinizing a projection screen. It showed an illustration of a woman in a torn violet shirt. A pair of bangles hung off her wrist. She cowered close to the floor, her head sunk between her hands. On the wall behind her, a man’s shadow loomed menacingly.</p> <p>“She’s being shown as a weakling,” someone in the front row said. “We need to show her as a survivor.”</p> <p>A few designers objected to the artfully ripped clothing, which had a cinematic quality, conjuring the image of a heroine roughed up, yet still glamorous. But there is no universal idiom for assault. “You could be in perfectly okay clothes and still be violated,” a young woman pointed out.</p> <div id="attachment_69263" class="wp-caption alignnone"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="size-full wp-image-69263" src="" alt="" width="796" height="595" /></a></p> <p class="wp-caption-text">One of the <a class="zem_slink" title="Stock photography" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia noopener">stock images</a> Indian news outlets have traditionally used to depict <a class="zem_slink" title="Sexual assault" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia noopener">sexual assault</a>. Courtesy of Breakthrough India.</p> </div> <p>In India, press laws prevent media outlets from identifying victims of sexual violence, or using any photographs that might lead them to be identified. So news agencies rely on a set of stock images—including the one shown on the projection screen—to illustrate reports of assault, drawing from a tiny common-domain database. But these newsroom images, featuring a half-dozen variations on near-identical themes, reinforce harmful stereotypes surrounding sexual violence, skewing perceptions of accountability.</p> <p>Women are depicted as helpless (though still potentially culpable) victims, huddled on the ground with their faces buried. Perpetrators lurk in spotlit doorways, dangerous, powerful, and unseen. The images reflect prevalent attitudes in India around assault that are mirrored in Indian popular culture, including film. A taboo around <a class="zem_slink" title="Rape" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia noopener">rape</a> means that survivors are often stigmatized. In representations of violence, women are reduced to inert objects, attractive prey to be pursued and captured.</p> <p><strong>ICYMI: <a href="">“This era promises to bring more challenges for diverse journalists”</a></strong></p> <div id="mc_embed_signup"><center><span class="form-title-embed">Sign up for <span class="cjr-bold"><a class="zem_slink" title="Columbia Journalism Review" href="" target="_blank" rel="homepage noopener">CJR</a></span>‘s daily email</span>“Images are a very strong part of an article. They reinforce our own conditioning constantly,” says Priyanka Kher, head of communications at Breakthrough India, a human rights organization that uses media and pop culture as outreach tools.</center></div> <p class="pullquote-2015">It’s about planting a seed of doubt, questioning the narrative.”</p> <p>This past spring, Breakthrough India saw an opportunity to reset the narrative by developing updated news illustrations and sharing them with media outlets. The group devised a social media campaign—#RedrawMisogyny—and enlisted designers and volunteers to develop an alternative bank of images. With its own database of stock imagery, the first part of which was released earlier this summer, Breakthrough is determined to counter regressive media tropes and portray sexual and gender-based violence in a more informed light.</p> <p>“If every time you do a search for rape and find images that are politically correct, that goes a long way,” Kher says. “It’s about planting a seed of doubt, questioning the narrative.”</p> <p>There were more than 34,000 <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reports</a> of sexual assault in India in 2015, according to the most recent figures released by the <a class="zem_slink" title="National Crime Records Bureau" href="" target="_blank" rel="homepage noopener">National Crime Records Bureau</a>. But since rape remains starkly underreported, actual numbers are hard to gauge (in the US, where rape is also underreported, a sexual assault occurs more or less <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">every minute</a>.) In <a class="zem_slink" title="Delhi" href=",77.23&amp;spn=1.0,1.0&amp;q=28.61,77.23 (Delhi)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation noopener">Delhi</a>—<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">dubbed</a> India’s “rape capital”—the rate of reported sexual assaults has risen since 2012, when a 23-year-old medical student was fatally gang raped aboard a moving bus, drawing mass coverage around the world. The so-called “Nirbhaya case”—named for the Hindi word for “fearless,” which the press used as a pseudonym for the victim—made violence against women front page news.</p> <p>Two months before the Nirbhaya case, an <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">article</a> in <em>The New York Times</em> on Indian news reports of rape observed that “the emphasis still appears to be on the disgraced victim.” It pointed toward the enduring trope of the “shamed woman,” seen in illustrations of a woman with her head bowed, and continued: “Sometimes, this woman also happens to be somewhat scantily clad.”</p> <div id="attachment_69268" class="wp-caption alignnone"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="size-medium wp-image-69268" src="" sizes="(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px" srcset=" 800w, 1124w" alt="" width="800" height="600" /></a></p> <p class="wp-caption-text">A traditional image. Courtesy of Breakthrough India.</p> </div> <p><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A study</a> carried out by the University of Oklahoma on the impact of news images, which used the 2003 Iraq war as a case study, found that media visuals are instrumental in directing public opinion. Unlike the actual text of the stories, which relied on “arguments and details” and were “cognitive in nature,” the images shown invoked only “powerful, instantaneous emotion.”</p> <p>Newsroom images rely on a vocabulary of visual shorthands: ripped clothing, wide-mouthed screams, shadowy predators.  They reinforce a larger double standard around shame and sexual purity, which has deep roots in India’s visual culture. The <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">image</a> of Bharat Mata, or Mother India, allegorizes the nation as a patriotic Hindu goddess. Originally conceived under British rule as a powerful anti-colonial emblem, the symbol linked colonial possession to sexual dishonor, imagining the independent nation as a woman’s unviolated body. In <em>The Ramayana</em>, the ancient Sanskrit <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">epic poem</a>that is reenacted annually all across the subcontinent, the kidnapped queen, Sita, is rescued from a long imprisonment under a lustful demon. Dishonored, she is forced to abandon her kingdom and is exiled to the forest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the modern-day Bollywood film industry <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">toys</a> with female empowerment, Hindi cinema also has peddled the “shamed woman” trope. In what film scholar Jyotika Virdi <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has termed</a> “rape-revenge” films, the camera lingers on lone, vulnerable women, signaling what Virdi calls “the rape threat.” Once violated, the disgraced heroines become desperate vigilantes, embarking on quests for comeuppance.</p> <p>Media reporting on sexual assault remains steeped in a cinematic language, recycling outdated mores. Newsroom tropes, with their shameful, terror-stricken women and prowling, lustful men, script visual narratives that are wholly divorced from the realities of rape. The journalist Joanna Jolly, a former BBC South Asia correspondent, has <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a> that the illustrations misrepresent assault as “stranger danger,” an “almost Victorian idea of rape” that is taken out of context and only committed by “madmen, who attack women at night.” Survivors of sexual assault are, in fact, likely to have known their assailants.</p> <div id="attachment_69267" class="wp-caption alignnone"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="size-medium wp-image-69267" src="" sizes="(max-width: 790px) 100vw, 790px" srcset=" 790w, 795w" alt="" width="790" height="600" /></a></p> <p class="wp-caption-text">A traditional image. Courtesy of Breakthrough India.</p> </div> <p>“It’s like any political propaganda. It shapes our thinking,” says Ruhie Kumar, a communications consultant who grew up flipping through her mother’s Hindi-language women’s magazines, which used similar kinds of images when illustrating violence against women. “If we don’t have an intervention, we’re going to have a really off-balance narrative being pushed far and wide.”</p> <p>A 2015 <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from Australia’s National Research Organization for Women’s Safety found that news reports on violence against women rely on what’s called “episodic framing.” Unlike “thematic framing,” which uses social factors such as gender inequality to contextualize incidents, episodic or event-based framing “tends to elicit individualistic rather than societal attributions of responsibility.” In India, this tendency often leads to victim-blaming.</p> <p>This past winter, in a forlorn patch of a Dehli park behind a strip of restaurants, a woman was allegedly assaulted by a waiter. In its reporting, <em>The Times of India</em>, India’s widest read English-language daily paper, <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">made mention</a> of the woman’s night of “revelry” and “pub-hopping.” To illustrate the article, it ran an image of a female prisoner slinking forward in a jail cell. Bars cast long shadows over her face.</p> <div id="attachment_69269" class="wp-caption alignnone"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="size-medium wp-image-69269" src="" sizes="(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px" srcset=" 800w, 1398w" alt="" width="800" height="441" /></a></p> <p class="wp-caption-text">A traditional image. Courtesy of Breakthrough India.</p> </div> <p>“For me to counter it, because I’m so brainwashed, I have to really take a step back,” Kumar says.</p> <p>That was precisely the point of the gathering of designers in April: to debate how to develop a better narrative framework for reporting and illustrating assault. But before drafting new images, the group first continued to dissect the news illustrations currently in circulation, which can appear up to several times a week in Indian newspapers.</p> <p>The next picture projected on the screen that morning captured, unnervingly, the vantage point of the assailant. From eye level, a grasping hand reached forward. A woman shrunk back, her palm shielding her face. All the viewer could see was a pair of widened eyes and a crown of dark curls.</p> <div id="attachment_69264" class="wp-caption alignnone"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="wp-image-69264 size-medium" src="" sizes="(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px" srcset=" 800w, 1276w" alt="" width="800" height="453" /></a></p> <p class="wp-caption-text">A traditional illustration. Courtesy of Breakthrough India.</p> </div> <p>“How can we avoid sensationalizing?” the emcee asked. The audience grew quiet, save for a little girl dressed in bubblegum pink, who babbled baby-talk in the back row. “Can we give out a powerful image using more subtle imagery?”</p> <p>A woman in white raised her hand. She had seen the illustration in multiple news reports. “The perpetrator is just a symbol of what it means to be a perpetrator,” she complained. It was a cartoon—a lurid abbreviation of real horror. “We need to create a narrative that gives out the message, enough is enough.”</p> <p>“Maybe if we show the survivor dragging the perpetrator to the police station,” suggested a designer. “Head up, not chin down.”</p> <p>Another hand shot up. “From my experience, trying to do anything with gender in a newsroom is very difficult,” the hand-raiser ventured. “The only solution is to shove it down their throats!” the others shouted, sparking a round of applause.</p> <p>Illustrations used by Indian media outlets are typically developed by visualizers working alongside staff reporters and editors covering stories of domestic and sexual violence. They can also be sourced from various stock photo databases and online platforms. Though repetitive—and ridden with troubling cliches—dramatized sketches of events also help protect the anonymity of victims.</p> <p>Later in the afternoon, Himel Sarkar, digital coordinator for Breakthrough India, held up his Samsung smartphone: A national paper had just reported a gang rape in Mumbai. Under the headline was an illustration—a long-haired girl, groveling in obvious fear—that had appeared earlier in the slideshow. “Case in point,” Sarkar said.</p> <p>After a chicken biriyani lunch, designers split up into small groups, tasked with preparing preliminary sketches. A woman in a gray sari—Neha Dixit— complained of the “darkness” and “end-of-the-world hopelessness” to which the media defaulted when representing rape. There was an appetite for tearstained cheeks and ruined lives, but none for solidarity and longer-term support.</p> <div id="attachment_69266" class="wp-caption alignnone"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="size-medium wp-image-69266" src="" sizes="(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px" srcset=" 800w, 984w" alt="" width="800" height="535" /></a></p> <p class="wp-caption-text">One of the alternative images. Courtesy of Breakthrough India.</p> </div> <p>“I was thinking to flip it,” Dixit said quietly, “to show the victim as a survivor.”</p> <p>“And remove the perpetrator?” asked Rana Bhanu, a bearded illustrator, leaning across the table. “Is that something we’re willing to do?”</p> <p>Taking out a small notepad, Valiullah Hashmi, a Delhi-based artist in his mid-twenties, sketched out Lady Justice balancing a set of scales—the survivor on one side, the assailant on the other. Others protested against symbolism, seeing it as a form of erasure.</p> <p>“The more abstract we make it… the silencing [around rape] will get stronger,” argued photojournalist Ruhani Kaur.</p> <p>“Whenever we write about rape, it’s written in a passive voice: ‘A woman was raped,’” explained journalist Shobha SV. “The [rapist] never really comes into focus.”</p> <p>A little while later, the groups presented their ideas. One sketch showed an outstretched hand—now a woman’s—clawing at the face of an astonished assailant, drawing little globs of blood. In another, a boy stood smiling. His shadow revealed devil’s horns. “It shows that someone you know can also be the one to create havoc in your life,” explained the artist. “He’s the one who should be shamed.”</p> <p>Men still leered, not shadowy monsters, but real guys in jeans, and this time the viewer faced them. A young woman stood alone at night, men staring at her from behind. But she looked normal, unafraid; it was the oglers whose behavior looked wrong.</p> <div id="attachment_69265" class="wp-caption alignnone"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="size-medium wp-image-69265" src="" sizes="(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px" srcset=" 800w, 1452w" alt="" width="800" height="534" /></a></p> <p class="wp-caption-text">An alternative image. Courtesy of Breakthrough India.</p> </div> <p>The next image showed a woman staring straight ahead, cheeks and forehead scarred, her expression determined. “The woman, she’s suffered a lot,” said a man in a pink shirt and red turban. “But she’s still standing tall.” Her attacker, glimpsed in the foreground, shrank in shame, hands covering his face. Around his raised wrists, a pair of handcuffs gleamed.</p> <div id="attachment_69271" class="wp-caption alignnone"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img class="size-medium wp-image-69271" src="" sizes="(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px" srcset=" 800w, 990w" alt="" width="800" height="595" /></a></p> <p class="wp-caption-text">Another alternative image. Courtesy of Breakthrough In</p> <p></p> </div> </div> </section> " data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-78196" src="" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px" srcset=" 640w, 300w" alt="Narendra-Modi-AP (3)" width="640" height="480" />

Why assert that the black money battle via demonetisation is so much shadow-boxing that will knock no real villain out? There are multiple reasons why this is so.

One, the bulk of black money is not stashed away but in circulation, making yet more money, including white money. While the entire currency in circulation is worth 12% of GDP, and most of it is used for perfectly legitimate transactions, the untaxed economy in the country is estimated to be at least 20% of GDP. Of course, money has velocity but only when it is in circulation.

Two, most of the demonetised notes will get converted into new notes or gold or dollars. We have armies of underemployed people with identity proof who can take portions of stashed money to the bank and get it converted into new notes. Religious trusts will help out, as will companies that show cash on their books but do not have any.

Three, if Modi were serious about stamping out black money, he would begin with BJP’s own funding, taking all contributions into a bank account and declaring them as the Aam Admi Party originally did.

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Comment (1)


    The black money is less in cash and more in property form. Hence, the concentration should be on big business transactions and the property associated with industrialists. Akso, the political party funding must be looked at first – to start with the party in power and its funding mechanism.

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