So, as I told you folks, I was traveling through the rough and tumble of rural Bengal. And if anything, I feel the good folks who read my blog deserve a “ground report”. However, as I keep saying all the time, I am not a journalist. Unlike journalists, I don’t think that anecdotes are data. Unlike journalists, I don’t make a living pretending to know the pulse of the people. So, here is some stuff that I found interesting and I think you might enjoy too.
First of all, on demonetization, the picture seems radically different from what the media has been drilling into our heads. I spoke to exactly 40 people. ALL of them were strangers and ALL of them were definitely really poor : regular travelers in horrible local trains, vendors in those same trains and of course drivers of e-rickshaws and auto-rickshaws.
Here is my standard template of speaking to them:
Me : Have there been problems with notes in these parts?
Typical answer: Somewhat / normalizing now / No problem /
Me : But are the ATMs working?
Typical answer : I don’t have / don’t use an ATM card (I told you most of these people were very poor.)
And then I would ask the all important question:
Me : Tell me something. This thing that Modi has done, you think it was the right thing?
Answer : Yes (38) No (2)
Typically I would stick around to mention something like : “But Didi is very angry”. To this I received a lot of responses, some outright abusing the Chief Minister to one really clever person who put it thus:
“Seems Didi’s brothers have lost a lot of money.”
Some people of course were actual “Modi bhakts”. One of them confidently told me a fantastic story of how Modi came to Belur in West Bengal to become a sadhu but a very learned sage told him that Modi had taken birth specifically to save the country 🙂
How poor were these people? Let me give you an example. One of my respondents was the guy standing beside me in the local train. A hawker came by selling little packets of fried snacks. Here is how the guy spoke to the hawker:
Guy : How much for this packet?
Hawker : Rs 5
Guy takes a long pause. Then he nods miserably and says:
“Do you have anything cheaper than Rs 5?”
Hawker: No. Rs 5 is the minimum.
The guy waited a while, let go of the packet. The hawker turned away. Another person bought a packet for Rs 5. Then the guy, who was clearly hungry, finally gave in and asked:
“Okay give me the Rs 5 packet then”.
A person who thinks 10 times before purchasing a Rs 5 packet of snacks is supporting demonetization vocally. And they think that Modi has lost touch with the masses.
That’s my “ground report” on demonetization. Take it for what you will…
The other issue on my mind was Dhulagarh. You have to understand that because of the nature of the topic, I didn’t feel very safe talking about it to a lot of people. I don’t think I managed to speak to more than 10 people about Dhulagarh riots.
Several of them asked me my name before opening their mouth on Dhulagarh. They clearly wanted to know my religion first.
But once they opened their mouth, it got really, fiercely communal. The emotions I heard were extremely charged and extremely hateful. They clearly said the TMC government is working only for the Muslims. Many times, the things they went on to say were so violent and hateful that I had to try to calm them down.
I am fairly sure now of two things:
(1) Everyone in Bengal knows about Dhulagarh now and everyone is thinking about it.
(2) Mamata Banerjee and her secular allies have made a giant mistake by covering up what really happened.
As bad as things were, the burqa of secularism forcibly thrown over the events in Dhulagarh has led to the popular narrative spinning completely out of control. Extreme exaggerations are everywhere. Some told me about the “Dhulagarh massacre”, which I am quite sure simply did not happen. But people are talking about it. The cover up has made things much worse.
For me, the Dhulagarh lesson (if the seculars have learned any) is a triumph of “person to person reporting” over and above the heads of the ayatollahs of secular media. Traditionally, the model of information flow in India looked like this: (forgive my poor drawing please)
Observe how Dadri and the fake Barun Kashyap story make it to the right chamber and are fed to the public, while Dhulagarh and Malda still languish in the left chamber. All because of the bottleneck which is in the stranglehold of Lutyens media.
But then, technology came along. Local residents, armed with mobile phone cameras and recorders picked up the events and started reporting them. Other people began to compile this information on Twitter, FB and Whatsapp. In effect, technology helped the people punch huge holes in the carefully constructed isolation chambers:
This is what your new world looks like Rajdeep. Resistance is futile.