Free Press Journal

Cash Crunch: ATMs have a quirky connection with Karnataka


New Delhi: A Security guard sits in front of a non-operational ATM in New Delhi, on Wednesday. PTI Photo by Ravi Choudhary (PTI4_18_2018_000220B)

‘Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe,’ says the Bible. Then, if ‘no money in the ATM’ is a ‘sign’, it will require a doomsday scenario to turn the phenomena into a ‘wonder’. Rahul Gandhi and Derek O’Brien term it a ‘Financial Emergency’. “But where are the facts to substantively advance that theory?” asks Alec Smart, not aware that Arnab Goswami had said much the same the night before on Republic TV. “For, isn’t it just that: a theory, rumour and fear-mongering by the Opposition?”

Alec’s roommate Jocko Street went out at noon Tuesday (April 17, 2018) and returned an hour later with five crisp 100 rupee notes. He struck cash at the sixth ATM. The old gatekeeper at the fourth told him there was a cash shortage. The grocer next door waved a new Rs 200 currency note in Jocko’s face. “‘Go bank,” he told Jocko, “much cash in bank.”

Now, Alec Smart was telling Jocko it was fear-mongering and rumour. Who to believe? ATMs don’t lie, do they? But what to make of this morning’s pink paper? It quoted the IMF’s World Economic Outlook: ‘India has gotten over its demonetisation fits and was on its way to outrun China in GDP growth in 2018 and 2019.’

Jocko was confused. He worried. He fretted. He was the wary sort. Hang on to the five 100s, he told Jack Daniels on the mantelpiece. Alec Smart smirked. He was the sort who believed that for every rumour there was a lie. In this case the lie was that there was a cash shortage.

“If so, why have cash withdrawals spiked 40%?” asked Jocko. “It is the season of harvest,” retorted Alec Smart in good humour. “Gold sales have also soared. Besides, it was Baisakhi and Vishu, and there’s Akshaya Tritiya, too. The Gregorian might set our day to day, but traditional Indian dates are remembered and celebrated.”

That still doesn’t explain ATM not spilling cash, Jocko scoffed. He was one of the scores of millions who believed in gone-for-good RBI guv Raghuram Rajan, who said the other day that he had cautioned the Modi–dispensation of the pitfalls of demonetisation but was ignored. Alec Smart laughed his screechy laugh. “There are brighter economists than RR in IMF and World Bank. Don’t be lazy like a Sunday afternoon, go visit the bank. Get it from the horse’s mouth,” he advised Jocko.

The fact of the matter is there are millions of Jockos around on whose fears politicians play on. It was not just demonetisation and the GST. Now, there’s this shebang of cash shortage. Can’t be that all the cash in banks have been siphoned and shipped off to Antwerp and Hongkong? Hasn’t the RBI said that there was no cash shortage?

Even that does not make Jocko any less wary. For all you know, tomorrow could be another bad at the ATM. He is the sort who believes in the likes of Ghanshyam Tewari, Samajwadi Party spokesperson. Doomsday scenarios Opposition politicians paint on TV talk shows are pitted with 3,000 feet deep chasms. For the love of cash, everybody go to Lover’s Point, and take the plunge, there’s one in every hill station.

Jocko has always been in love with cash. Not for him the cashless wallet and digital plastic twisted in his hip-pocket. Crisp currency did things to him Modi wouldn’t understand. “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” he told Alec Smart in one of his Jack Daniels moments.

So, Alec Smart cautioned. “Before Lover’s Point divert to the bank. The teller will deliver cash on the barrel for a signed ‘self-cheque’. Jocko gave Smart his wry smile. “Just because eyebrows are being raised does not make it fear-mongering. Opposition politicians are honourable people. What would they get from erecting scarecrows other than another opportunity to hammer another nail in the BJP’s coffin?” Alec Smart struck what he thought was his smartest pose. “Banks have been re-calibrating ATMs. After all it is a machine and needs to be told the right signs to deliver ‘in which denominations’,” he told Jocko. “My bank ‘Yes Bank’ recalibrated ATMs last month.”

Jocko sat up straight, abruptly. “Got it, my Khushwant Singh bulb just flickered. It is the Karnataka elections. Didn’t you read the report? The BJP is flush with funds. And with RR not at the helm, RBI is not printing high value currency. Starve the Congress of cash, that is the trick. Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 have vanished from ATMs. This morning’s Eco Times said banks are complaining. Eco Times thinks it could be because of no ink, no paper to print currency, bah! Mark my words, the whole shindig is about the Karnataka polls.”

Alec Smart stared at his bare feet. They were large, size 10. But he hardly moved them outdoors. And here was Jocko ‘Sadakchaap’ Street getting the better of him in one of his ‘Sardar in the Bulb’ moments, maybe hitting the nail on the head. By God, Mr Urjit Patel, gotta give it to you. No wonder the bookies have put their money on the loaded-with-cash BJP. Cash on the barrel is what wins elections. Ask Mr TTV. He took RK Nagar with bundles of cash on the barrel – Prestige and Hawkins on the LPG stove.

Aditya Aamir is a freelance journalist. The views are personal.

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