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Growing evidence shows that India is serving interests of foreign influencers at the cost of the well being of Indian citizens. Demonetisation is just one in a long list of moves that benefit big money.

Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, said something interesting when he addressed the Digi-Dhan mela today. He said that Bill Gates told him that more than 100 Cr have mobile phones, 109 Cr have Aadhar cards, digital economy will boom in India.

This had many people puzzled. What does Bill Gates have to do with anything that he's been quoted out of the blue? Why would Bill Gates be the source of information on how many mobile phones or Aadhaar cards are in India for the Finance Minister with access to National statistics? For example the Assocham Deloitte study that says that internet connectivity is still out of reach for 950 million Indians? A few others, who had been paying attention to the news remembered Bill Gates endorsing the demonetisation last month and then denying much knowledge of it and limiting his endorsement to the digitisation of the Indian economy.

But what does Bill Gates have to do with India's demonetisation that he was even asked to comment or endorse it at all or that made headlines on the subject twice and a month later the Finance Minister used data allegedly provided by him to support the viability of this insane venture? 100 crores is 1 billion - in a country of 1.2 billion, with 22% of the population (264 million!) below an absurd poverty line. You'd need to hand phones to babies on birth to get that kind of penetration! That alone should tell you that the number is useless for anything more than propaganda. It is the total number of SIMs sold. Of them "active" - used once a month at a minimum - are 900 million. This number would also include dual SIM phones, SIMs used for non-phone devices (air pollution measuring devices, for example), multiple SIMs used for businesses and so on. This really tells you nothing about the kind of penetration that would allow cashless transactions. Far more accurate statistics with relevance to demonetisation are available for India that make it clear that India has 220 million (100 crore is 1 billion) smart phone users (not all of them have internet enabled).

For that, we must rewind a bit, to something I've mentioned briefly in previous articles and explore it in more details.

Worldwide, as banks fail to manage their money responsibly, we are seeing them flounder. Powerful companies and people writing and influencing monetary policies are encouraging cashless transactions - supposedly to improve the government's coverage for taxation, but in reality, in a country with 70% of its population only owning 10% of its wealth while the top 1% own almost 60%, the cost of digitizing the vast majority of citizens is not even going to be covered by anything that can possibly be recovered from their meagre income that is way below taxable limits. It doesn't take a hotshot economist to know that in a country where 1% of the population pays taxes, the "tax net" is unlikely to get any substantial benefits from being thrown over 100% to see who gets caught. The costs of such an exercise would outstrip any benefits.

What going cashless actually achieves is providing a lifeline to banks by:

  1. Getting most of the nation's money into them and shoring up their failing liquidity
  2. By generating an income for them from the routine transactions of every citizen's day to day living.
  3. Preventing withdrawal of cash from banks by people who want to make more economical choices instead of paying commissions for every use of money.

This happening in India is of a great deal of profit to the global banking elite as well, as credit card services, banks invested in India and other financial service providers generate an income for banks based outside India with their shares of the seemingly small transaction charges on day to day use of money in a country of 1.2 billion people.

There is a great deal of effort put into "encouraging" countries worldwide into adopting cashless transactions by the global financial elite and governments stumped by failing banks and the lure of improved tax collection are capitulating, though none fell as hard and recklessly as the Indian government.

The Quint had correctly reported that the USAID had launched the “Catalyst: Inclusive Cashless Payment Partnership”, designed to scale digital payments systems in India in partnership with India's Ministry of Finance on the 14th of October. This is the press release on the official USAID website. So it is unclear why The Quint updated its article to remove this information and instead add an update that it was initiated jointly by USAID and GOI, but commissioned on the 15th of November as though it didn't happen till it was commissioned. Regardless, this explains what Bill Gates was doing there at all to be commenting on the demonetisation - that should have been a domestic issue. Among the organizations partnering in the Catalyst is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Also included in the list is the UN fronted Better Than Cash Alliance that India joined on the 1st of September 2015. To quote their website, "The Alliance is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi Foundation, Ford Foundation, MasterCard, Omidyar Network, United States Agency for International Development, and Visa Inc. The United Nations Capital Development Fund serves as the secretariat."

So, Bill & Melinda Gates, Omidyar Network, Mastercard and Visa participate as themselves as well as as part of the Better than Cash Alliance. USAID participates through the BCA. World Economic Forum participates directly. Many Indian banks, and surprisingly PayTM as well as phone networks are included.

Way before anyone in India articulated a need for cashless payments beyond the normal use for convenience - and there was an existing natural rate of adoption, USAID and its allies seem to have got the bright idea that India needed to go cashless and moved to get India to participate. Not one, but two organizations created in their need to "save" India from itself. One wonders why. The economy was doing well, the government was already undertaking means to improve access and inclusion of more citizens in the banking system - for example, the Jan Dhan Yojana, the expansion of the DBTL scheme (both of which put citizen's money into banks, the second mandatorily) had both been launched before the government joining these groups for promoting a digital economy in India.

Given the catastrophic results of the demonetisation, and the complete absence of consulting with anyone in the country - the government's own economists, RBI directors or security agencies included, it becomes important to ask just who was consulted and the quality of information that was provided and whether it influenced decisions adversely for the country.

There are reasons to believe that there may have been influence against National interest:

  1. Jaitley's direct quote of incorrect statistics allegedly provided to him by Bill Gates, that he used in order to justify the demonetisation at the Digi Dhan mela, even as all statistics of any reputable source point to the opposite. The RBI's data even shows that while the number of card transactions at PoS has increased (out of necessity), the value of transactions has actually gone down, clearly indicating a reluctance to adopt cashless transactions more widely than what was going on naturally.
  2. While in opposition, the BJP itself has pointed out that the CIA works through the USAID programme acting through philanthropic foundations to destabilize countries. There is considerable evidence to support this that BJP were already aware of. USAID has been implicated in covert operations to support subversive activities in countries from Cuba to Pakistan and notably the backing of Al Qaeda affliated rebels in Syria recently.
  3. Ford Foundation grants have in the past preceded at least two major political upheavals in the country - the Janlokpal Andolan and the creation of the Vivekananda International Foundation (which backed it and later ran subversive slander campaigns undermining the newly emerging AAP) were both preceded by grants by the Ford Foundation to their founding members or organizations. The Jan Lokpal Andolan discredited the government then in power. The Vivekananda International Foundation masterminded the rise of the current government, discredited the Aam Aadmi Party that was on the rise and now has an extraordinary number of members appointed to government positions, including the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, under whose "able guidance", India's regional foreign policy has collapsed. There are allegations that he influenced a controversial supercession in the appointment of the next Army Chief.
  4. Contributed by reader Prem A (in comments below): The conflict of interest doesn’t stop there, Dr Nachiket M. Mor is the country directory of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and he is also one of the directors of RBI.
  5. Usual sources of reliable advice and information to the government appear to have been bypassed in this apparently "well planned" demonetisation, indicating that other sources of information were likely used - the government may potentially have been misled to use information that was not in national interest. This needs investigation given the mounting damage being inflicted on the country.
  6. Strangely, neither the government's joining the Better than Cash Alliance, nor the Catalyst were reported in India at all. For a government that proudly publicizes its every sneeze and hiccup that is dutifully given maximum publicity by a subservient media, if this were indeed a move that would benefit India, it is unclear why the Prime Minister would not proudly declare it.

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It isn't just in India, that people are being forced to put money into banks. Banks worldwide are in trouble. Banks worldwide are needing bailouts. Demonetisation of notes is being considered as well as put into action in country after country - Europe (plan to not make 500 Euros post 2018), Venezuela (got reversed after protests from people) and now Pakistan (plan to demonetise Rs.5000 notes) and Australia (may abolish $100 note), though none of them have been as extreme as the abrupt discontinuation of 86% of the cash in the country, as India did. Governments are in difficult positions. If banks collapse, chaos will result. If they bail out banks, it is not sustainable. And worldwide, government and banks seem to have hit on the bright idea of using the people to get money into banks. Or rather, use the money of customers to continue with their mismanaged methods that have got them to this point. It wouldn't work, normally. One whiff of banks using the customer's money would have people withdrawing their money from banks. Unless - they couldn't withdraw, because there was no real way to do it.

The idea is simple. Go cashless - or as close to cashless as possible. With people unable to withdraw money, their money will remain in the banking system, even while they transact and it moves from account to account. Banks would have most of the money of the whole country to tap into. And no matter what happened, no matter how mismanaged, no matter how close to collapse, there would be no way for people in the country to prevent banks from looting them. Eventually you progress to what is called negative interest rates, where you pay banks for keeping money in them.

What could possibly go wrong?

Please note, I am not an economist. But it doesn't take rocket science to figure out that mishandled anything can only be fixed by handling it right. If banks are in a crisis, demonetisation may fill them flush with cash, but it cannot fix the problem. It will only give banks the freedom to make even bigger, catastrophic mistakes with money that isn't even theirs. Of course the government gets the side effect of unprecedented surveillance and control over lives of citizens. Soon, being harrassed by tax officials or being framed in cases would be the least of worries for dissenters. With very little effort, the government would have the power to cut off your access to all life essentials - or at least make access very difficult as yourself - your own money in your banks, access to cooking gas, your phone numbers... and it goes downhill from there. Whatever you have attached to this monolith.

Here are some very possible scenarios the current debate on demonetisation does not cover adequately:

Shrinking of the economy

Economic migrants are returning to their places of origin by the hordes. Jobs are being lost in entire sectors. Tourism has as good as crashed without money to spend freely. Most tourism in India happens away from the city in small towns and remote places where internet connectivity can be iffy. No matter the propaganda on TV, very few will (or indeed are) risking travel without actual hard cash to back up any cashless plans. A friend in the adventure tourism industry reports of hotels running empty with Christmas coming up, even when they are giving rooms at off season rates. They actually made a tidy profit, because a large chunk of a trip's expense is hotel rooms, which they got for way less than what they budgeted for. So he should be thrilled, right? um... Nope. That one trip is the only business he has in sight at the moment. Usually, they don't have time to breathe in this season. Automobile manufacturers have stopped or cut down production drastically. Local markets everywhere are shrinking. Reduced number of sellers seeing some sales in essential goods creates an illusion of normalcy, but it is an illusion, because the number of sellers have reduced to the point where the few left can try to survive on half of what they used to earn.

Agriculture has been hit unevenly. Those who got their produce sold and new crops planted before demonetisation are relatively unaffected, but most farmers are facing severe crisis with an entire year's worth of profits wrecked. The season that was just over was good. Good rain leading to good harvests. Except demonetisation resulted in their crops selling at the rates of the dirt they grew in. Devastated farmers have dumped tomatoes on roads because the prices they get wouldn't even cover taking them anywhere to sell. As reports of farmers unable to buy seed created outrage, an oblivious government did the one thing it was doing rapidly - poked a few more holes in their grand demonetisation to temporarily allow farmers to buy seeds from government outlets using the old demonetised notes. The government still appears to be oblivious, because the biggest cost of sowing crops is not the seed, but the labour and related expenses that go into it. To add insult to injury, in several places (notably in Uttar Pradesh), the government shops didn't accept the old notes anyway, because the banks wouldn't accept the notes from them - under the directions of the government.

Small industries - garment manufacturers, beedi manufacturers, etc - are rapidly shutting down or drastically cutting down workers, leaving thousands out of work. The pundits of the "market" appear to think that once cash is back (and note, they aren't even talking cashless at this point), things will get to normal. I admit I don't have their knowledge of economics. But I have the experience of living in countless small towns, villages and remote places on shoestring budgets (or credit) and I can assure you, there is no such thing as a jobs bonanza. The jobs being lost as a tsunami had trickled into existence over decades. Banks may be ready and willing, indeed eager to give cheap loans, but other than big companies and their audacious attitudes, I cannot imagine people coming out of a money crisis even thinking of risking loans before their depleted savings are shored again and loans taken to survive are repaid. Because for these people, the consequences of not repaying loans are not write-offs.

To be blunt, even before demonetisation, we weren't really adding much jobs. If the loss of jobs can be reversed, it still isn't an impressive pace. And I don't think it will reverse with the ease it was broken. It will have to recover from this trauma. Less jobs and less incomes mean less taxes after this one time bonanza and more NPAs. So the government and banks may end up losing income while they gain access to use a lot more money of depositors. That way lies bad news, in my view.

Security risks

The overall situation of desperation puts India at risk of unrest and lawlessness. We already see increased violence at banks. That is the most obvious. People want money, banks don't have money, anger happens, bankers are overtired, something blows on occasion, more frequently as time passes and the pressure does not relent. The government appears to be oblivious to this, as the usual propaganda channels are recklessly blaming banks for black market trading of cash, telling people via television that there is plenty of money and so on. Bankers have died of stress at work. There has been a suicide as well. This is bad news waiting to happen unless the government wakes up fast. Which it does not seem inclined to do, given that it is still trying to prevent a "cut" of demonetised money from being deposited at all and their absurd rules and roll backs and new rules to try and make it happen are further stressing banks and depositors. But still, this is the most obvious.

Situations of mass desperation are ripe for creating hostility and generating violence with rumors and incitement. With elections coming up in several states, this is a very real risk. Given that the ruling party seems to consistently profit from elections held after riots, I don't know whether they see this as a bug or a feature.

Another kind of security risk that would be very high right now is internet banking crimes. With most of the country's money in banks, bankers overworked, and a lot of new people beginning to use cashless transactions, India right now is ripe for internet banking crimes. Furthermore, the government's reckless promotion of services like Paytm, with no liability to protect users from fraud and unknown security measures and unaccountable management, the risk is magnified drastically. Several serious issues leading to loss of money crop up daily on social media, including organized fraud and tax evasion. Our own Godavar found that Paytm has an absurd process for responding to the loss of a phone with a Paytm app on it. The Cyber Appellate Tribunal being non-functional for the last five years is the icing on this cake.

The banks are also vulnerable to threats from terrorists or other enemies of the country. Attacks on the banking system at this point have the potential of bringing the entire country to a complete standstill. And they don't even have to involve theft of funds. Even simple DoS attacks preventing cashless transactions from succeeding would create considerable disruption. It is unclear whether the government has even prepared for such an eventuality.

Money being funnelled out of citizens and into banks and foreign services

When you spend Rs.100 as cash, and the next person spends Rs. 100 as cash and so on, the Rs. 100 remains Rs. 100. If you swipe a card and incur a 2% charge, With every transaction, the Rs.100 bleeds money to service providers and there is a continuous loss of value that can be recovered from it. Rs. 100 becomes Rs. 98, which becomes Rs. 96 and so on (yes, I know I should be getting into decimals and more accurate percentages. Too lazy). This is a tremendous bonanza for banks and other service providers. It doesn't get any more free money than this. For them, not you. Keep servers running, completely automated transactions keep dumping money at you. Is it any surprise that there is a rash of providers applying to become payment banks? It is likely that rates would be lowered. And why not, if they are able to get a cut on literally every single time anyone transacts for any reason - doesn't even have to be business - say someone giving their child pocket money? But the money with people will keep shrinking like this.

Worse, we will be bleeding money out of the country with every use of payment systems owned fully or partially by foreign companies. The government may well promote fully Indian solutions (not in a hurry, Paytm is 40% Chinese and the government is promoting it the most right now). But even with Indian solutions promoted, there will be considerable use of companies like Visa and Mastercard by those who need compatibility outside India - online purchases, travel... I am no economic expert, but I cannot imagine this to be a good thing - for foreign companies to profit from massive amounts of routine transactions in India. Would probably have serious implications for the trade deficit or something.

Collapse of banks

Here I say with even more stress that I am not an economist. But I don't see how this would not happen. Even with withdrawal of cash prevented, the flow of funds from one bank to another cannot be prevented without completely ending all pretense at an economy. Sooner or later, banks with accounts of mostly spenders and small businesses will start collapsing, because money from those accounts will be used to pay those with accounts in bigger banks. Smaller businesses would be more vulnerable for collapse and NPAs given to them will disrupt matters further. Now here is the irony in this. The banking crisis is largely of banks lending to big corporations. They are the ones most likely to cannibalize smaller banks with far less NPAs. Saraswat Bank for example apparently has a pretty healthy 2.6% of NPAs. If this happens (and I hope it doesn't - as a result of failure to go cashless), it would be like punishing banks for not serving problem customers.

Where does this end?

What this whole circus achieves is cosmetic covering up of the problem. Preventing the money of citizens from being withdrawn to prevent collapse of banks cannot be a functional solution to anything. It is a violation of citizen rights. It is an exploitation of their money. It does nothing to prevent banks from taking their mismanagement further into a loss making zone, confident that the customers money cannot escape. What would a point be where anyone says "enough"? What comes next? Any other asset citizens can use to escape the banks? Gold? Silver? Diamonds? Real Estate? How many of our rightful and honestly earned possessions will be regimented for this forced rescue of banks? What point is enough? And why is it not "enough" right now instead of pulling this horrendous attack by a government on the country at the behest of businesses?

It is alarming that when some global opportunistic plan says "jump", our government doesn't even ask how high, it throws the country off the cliff.

Long overdue news. Wikileaks, which had gotten targeted in many ways by the US government over its exposes of war crimes was literally being starved of funds by the refusal of credit card companies to process donations to them. This Press Release from them is very good news. Strike one for whistleblowers!

In a case against Valitor, formerly VISA Iceland, Reykjavík District Court just ruled the company had violated contract laws by blocking credit card donations to Wikileaks. After WikiLeaks' publications revealing U.S. war crimes and statecraft in 2010, U.S. financial institutions, including VISA, MasterCard, Bank of America, erected a banking blockade against WikiLeaks wholly outside of any judicial or administrative process. The blockade stripped away over 95% of donations from supporters of WikiLeaks, costing the organization in excess of USD 20M.

The court ruled that the donation gateway should be reopened within 14 days otherwise Valitor will be penalized with a fine of 800 000 ISK daily. WikiLeaks is persuing several actions against the blockade and a European Commission preliminary investigation into the blockade was started last July. A Commission decision on whether to pursue the financial services companies involved in the blockade is expected before the end of August.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, said "This is a significant victory against Washington's attempt to silence WikiLeaks. We will not be silenced. Economic censorship is censorship. It is wrong. When it's done outside of the rule of law its doubly wrong. One by one those involved in the attempted censorship of WikiLeaks will find themselves on the wrong side of history."

I had said when the persecution of Wikileaks began that India was walking down the wrong path. How i had hoped that mine could be the country to offer Assange asylum. At least with this news, other, more ethical countries may take the chance...

What remains to be seen is how this history will be written. The 'masses' are getting their dose of scandal and assuming that 'someone' will fix things now that they are blown wide open. But is this true? The country waging wars to impose democracy on assorted regions with assorted psyches about authority is standing boldly as a dictatorship and there is not a single squeak from any other world authority, including the UN, who seem content with asking for some explanations on comparatively trivial matters. Queries that are apparently utterly ignored by the US government.

If there is one thing worse than a veiled dictatorship, it is a veiled dictatorship that no longer needs to keep up a pretense and things in America seem to be getting uglier by the day. Some things off the top of my head, which seem extremely dangerous for world safety and peace:

  • Hillary Clinton conveyed her regrets to the UN. Please notice the use of words. We can regret anything without being accountable for it. There was no apology. In fact, there has  been no apology for anything (ever?). Why is this on top rather than the more horrific things? Because its an alarm about how easily it was swallowed without any questioning.
  • Sweden, which has an extraction arrangement with the US has suddenly developed from a country with sorry figures for the proscecution of rape to one that issues international red alerts and arrest warrants for the questioning of a suspect who can't even be called a suspect, since there are no charges. Suspected of what? Yet Julian Assange spent 9 days in prison for being a flight risk - this in spite of the fact that he hadn't hidden from the police in either country and had left Sweden legally and was open to communication on the matter. He was denied bail at first, and then when he was granted bail, it was delayed by another two days because of some mysterious process where it got contested. Sweden lawyers say they didn't contest it, but the UK guys did. Apparently the UK has an interest in keeping him out of commission, which was quite evident in the nature of his imprisonment. For someone imprisoned only to prevent flight, why deny him company, exercise, communication... his lawyer had to struggle to meet him. Why? Why was he prevented from seeing the TIME magazine (His face was on the cover, but apparently the entire magazine was destroyed, not just the cover)? The Swedish lawyer protested that Julian coming to Sweden will only complicate America's access to him, as they will now require the agreement of two countries. Are we fools? He can't be held in the UK for long, since they have nothing on him, while it is Sweden that does. And who in the world thinks that Julian needs to be brought to the US for US to have access to him? This is the country that has used the UK fields for renditions against the express stated directions of the Queen herself. This is also the country that is already fixing for other countries to hold its prisoners. All it needs is for Julian to be off the streets, which is not possible without a really monstrous farce in the UK (where he also has a lot of support), while a really big farce has been possible to rig up in Sweden. As simple as that.
  • A multitude of companies have cut off services to Wikileaks in an economic stranglehold, while its virtual existence has been threatened in other ways ranging from removing its domain name to censoring the reading of the documents it released. We have already experienced two days on this site where the account was suspended for hosting  a mirror. All these companies Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, EveryDNS, Amazon, Bank of America.... and our very own Mochahost have done this without any legal directive, based solely on their own choice to interpret their Terms of Service to fit their action.
  • Censorship of Wikileaks in the US is rampant ranging from implied threats to career choices with the government to outright blocking of over 25 media sites including newspapers.
  • Politicians and public figures have called for Wikileaks to be declared a terrorist organization, for Assange to be pursued like Osama bin Laden, for his assassination, etc. Utterly illegal. Crass. And no one has managed to get any of this retracted. Not the citizens, not other politicians. To me, it sounds remarkably similar to terrorist videos - this guy has wronged unacceptably - kill him. Yep. Its a so called democracy's leaders delivering such evil speech.
  • Bradley Manning, who is suspected to be the source of the leaks, but not charged of anything has been imprisoned in solitary confinement under conditions described as torture WITHOUT CHARGE.
  • A splinter group of Wikileaks claims to promote its values by not making leaks public, but offering them selectively to (state-controlled) media. Yeah right. Who got sold? Check out the contact page when the site launches.

On the other hand, we have public figures standing up solidly for Wikileaks and Assange. People offering their homes, reputations and money to see him out on bail. Anonymous citizens of the world beginning with rage and illegal DDoS attacks called Payback, but maturing into more and more thoughtful and determined responses. Politicians, journalists, national heroes speaking out in condemnation of America's disproportionate and illegal response. Street protests.

Yet, things are pretty much where they stand. America is suppressing information to its citizens and employees, and projecting Wikileaks as a rogue/terrorist/virtual guerilla type organization. People are objecting. Small battles are happening on many fronts. Bradley is still in prison, but Assange is out for now, at least.

It is time to be a part of history to whatever extent we are able. To have a stake and exercise it in shaping our world and the legacy we leave our children. To participate in whatever way you can. Some suggestions (in increasing order of difficulty):

  • Be informed. If you do nothing else, you owe yourself this - a firm basis for your stand and understanding.
  • Share good articles or information you think the world should pay attention to on your Facebook profiles, Twitter, Buzz, whatever.
  • Speak out. In real life discussions. Online. Write articles, opinions on Facebook... if you don't currently write, but would like to write something, but don't have a place, feel free to submit it here.
  • Join the Anonymous operation Paperstorm. Print out cables and hand them out, stick them on walls...
  • Influence your society and government to insist on transparency, lawful behaviour and human rights.

Seeing as how no country in the world (or the UN) has really confronted the US on anything about the injustice we see unfolding, no matter where you live, current events are going to cascade on your freedoms - by virtue of becoming acceptable - its only a matter of time.