Modi's cheerleaders: Bollywood needs to shut up about demonetisation
Earlier today, Hrithik Roshan took a break from getting the remains of his dignity shredded by Kangana Ranaut to deliver an important message - he too was in favour of the ruling dispensation's decision to demonetise Rs 500 and 1,000 notes.
Hrithik, who just a day earlier had nothing to say on the matter when asked by reporters, hailed the move. "I salute our PM. This is radical but it's a first step to his promise of eradication of malpractices. It will also rein in counterfeiters. Bravo!"
When he tweeted this, Hrithik probably didn't realise that the new notes have no new security features to prevent them from being counterfeited, or that cash accounts for only a minuscule portion of black money. Still, he became the latest in a long line of Bollywood celebrities to come out in favour of the demonetisation of 500s and 1000s.
From Aamir to Shah Rukh to Salman, Bollywood's refrain has been largely the same - it's a good move, in the interest of the country and just a temporary inconvenience. But, rather than giving their pompous seal of approval or sanctimoniously preaching about "dealing with inconvenience", Bollywood needs to take a good, long look in the mirror and then shut up.
The privilege of plenty
Hrithik followed this up saying, "Every bold and inspirational move is initially met with resistance." What Hrithik, like many in his industry who have voiced similar thoughts, does not understand, however, is that the move isn't being opposed for being inspirational and bold. It's being opposed because the massive fallout of the move isn't being borne by black money hoarders, but by the poorer classes.
Small traders have lost the cash liquidity necessary to run their businesses, daily wage labourers with only cash savings - often converted to 500s or 1000s for convenience - now can't exchange money if they have no bank accounts. Those who do are losing wages because they are forced to stand in mile-long queues. Many have starved, 16 have died.
But from the vantage of Hrithik's ivory tower of privilege, the sufferings of the many are the sentiments of Luddites, anti-nationals opposed to progress. Instead, Hrithik gives the move 3 thumbs up, secure in the knowledge that he's earned his certificate of deshbhakti.
Salman Khan only reinforces this privileged view of the move that's largely disconnected from reality.
Speaking on the intellectually bankrupt reality show he hosts, Salman Khan had this to say about the move: "Salute Modiji for your initiative. I was in Hong Kong when Modiji announced this. I have some cash in hand, I have few Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes lying with me. I will soon get them exchanged from the bank."
Will he though? Will Salman Khan really wait in long queues to have his notes exchanged? Of course not. Heck, this is a man who "allegedly" had his driver take the blame for running over homeless people. Compared to that, standing in long queues in the sun to exchange their boss' money is practically a day off.
When Bollywood talks about inconvenience, they're talking about not being able to buy that Rs. 2,50,000 mink coat "that's so fetch". They aren't talking about starving, their health and wages suffering, and their financial security napalmed away. So for them to vouch for the move and its absolutely shoddy implementation, when the country's voiceless are suffering, is galling, to say the very least.
Black sheep in a black industry
Soon after PM Modi made the announcement, Ajay Devgn also cheered it as "historic" and claiming it would be "beneficial in the long run". But even in his tweets it is evident that he's not really the one suffering, it's the people who work for him who are standing in queues, while he gets to sit on his backside and declare them all okay with the move.
But Devgn insisted that he too was suffering. "Even my film is suffering because of this but in front of nation's interest, I find this inconvenience trivial," he tweeted.
Never mind that his film was widely panned by critics and fans alike, Devgn uses his 'struggle' to uphold the all important "nation's interest". But how much does Devgn really care abut national interest anyway? After all, this is the same man who a newspaper report revealed was part of the Panama Papers scandal.
Devgn had used the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to acquire a firm in the British Virgin Islands, which he used to to "acquire and exploit overseas rights of Hindi films." Mossack Fonseca is a firm known to facilitate such deals so that their clients can avoid paying taxes in their home countries.
So, if the nation's interests were all that Devgn cared about, why did he buy a company in the Virgin Islands, a famous tax haven? Wouldn't he want to start a company in India and pay the taxes that would be due to our government? Wouldn't that be in the nation's interest? Or is the nation's interest only of consequence when trying to curry favour with the powers that be?
Similarly, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan also gave her vote of confidence. "We all are actually congratulating our PM on this...This is going to be a movement to wipe out corruption at all levels...change can always bring about a little bit of discomfort but that's not something we need to focus on. You need to have a the longer overview..."
What Aishwarya fails to mention, however, is that she and her father-in-law Amitabh Bachchan (who's also voiced his support), also figure on the Panama Papers list. Much more prominently than Ajay Devgn even. While both have denied it, a recent report has contradicted Amitabh's claims at least.
So, when these stars talk about corruption being wiped out, it's because they've learnt to operate within the laws of legality while still keeping their money safe from those pesky tax sleuths. That's why Modi's move is genius to them - because they're ahead of the game. Who needs silly, old-fashioned notes when you have offshore shipping companies!
But they aren't the only people in their industry with shady dealings. Heck, Bollywood runs off of shady finances. An Income Tax department report from 2015 stated that Bollywood "is highly exposed to the black economy and poses myriad challenges to the tax administration."
Wikileaks' cables only confirm these suspicions. Investigative-journalism portal Cobrapost conducted a sting operation in 2012 where leading directors and producers bragged about how the industry is used to turn black money white.
That Bollywood stars can operate in a cesspool of black money, but think themselves certified to be be cheerleaders of the fight against it, is beyond laughable. Bollywood shouldn't just keep quiet, they should hang their heads in shame.