As the demonetisation debate rages — its pluses and minuses, a great scheme which could have been planned and implemented better to spare pain to the ordinary Indian, and so on — what cannot be denied is the urgent and crying need to make huge dents on corruption and the black economy of our country, which is estimated to be over a third of the Indian economy. A statistic that should make us bow our heads down in shame.
But leaving the merits of the case to economics experts, it is mind-blowing for me to recall an interview I did with an auto rickshaw driver in Chennai over two months ago. His spirit and integrity need celebration, as he is among the millions of ordinary, honest Indians who can teach our corrupt netas, babus, businessmen and others a lesson on what real nationalism is. I interviewed Annadurai, 31, because he had been honoured as an unsung hero by the Rotary Club of Madras East. Four years ago he decided that his customers gave him a livelihood, “and are my real god. I must do something for them”. So he put 8 newspapers and 35 magazines in his auto; “but I found only 30 per cent read; the other 70 per cent are on their phones surfing Facebook, etc”. So he got them connectivity for free, and this in 2011! As word spread and his popularity soared, he gradually invested in a Samsung tablet, a laptop and iPad; as he operates in the IT corridor of Chennai, the fit was perfect. Business soared, but he found his customers often struggling to give him change. When a foreigner once gave him Rs 1,000 for a Rs 30 fare, and asked him to keep the change, “I told him politely I don’t take tips and don’t want to keep your money, even though India is a poor country. His reaction told me he realised that India has changed.”
As the problem of change persisted, and “in the IT corridor everybody gets paid by bank transfers”, he decided to get a swiping machine so they could pay him through credit cards. The bank manager asked him “what kind of shop I had. When I said I need to keep it in my auto, you should have seen his face!” He asked for eight documents: company registration, logo, seal, visiting card, current account number, etc. Annadurai organised it all in two weeks “as I had registered my company called Amazing Auto, just like that.”
But what he says next is more amazing and mirrors what the Prime Minister said while announcing demonetisation on November 8. Annadurai’s exact words, which I’ve recorded, were uttered on September 20, 2016. “When my clients boarded, I gave them the credit card option, and told them it was not only to save them the hassle of withdrawing cash, it was towards a digital India and open transactions and to eliminate black money and corruption. This is the only way we will get rid of corruption. To prevent people dodging taxes, we must have open transactions.”
Next, he organised the option of mVisa — Mobile payments through QR code. Now 60 per cent of his passengers pay by card, and the regulars swipe the card themselves! This is not all. As his income improved, he felt “guilty that as an Indian citizen I wasn’t paying taxes”. So he filed his IT returns and “I now pay Rs 1,500 as tax, and feel that every rupee I pay goes into Arun Jaitley Sir’s budget!” Last year, when the flood-affected in Chennai got Rs 2,000 each, “I felt happy that the money the Central Government had given, included my taxes of Rs 1,500.”
Isn’t he a role model worth celebrating?
[Editorial for December 2016]