Lord of the Lottery Rings

Forget all those dictators’ widows promising you millions. Our prime minister offers much more.

Modi and the money acche din
Modi and the money. Illustration by Saahil for Outlook.com

The email said: “CONGRATS, you are a selected winner of the 4,000,000 GBP FACEBOOK LUCKY PROMO.”

All it requires for me to do is to submit my bank details and a processing fee of 150 British pounds to someone in Amsterdam. I think I could manage that.

The reason I love internet lotteries is that you always win. I’ve won so many of them, I keep paying Google that additional $ 2 a month for 20 GB  of extra space in my mailbox. Cumulatively, luck in the lotteries has brought my net worth to $82.3 trillion. That, I’m reliably informed, is slightly higher than world GDP (nominal).  All it takes for me to be many times richer than Bill and Warren put together, is to send out my bank details and processing fees to an incredible number of philanthropists  in Amsterdam, Lagos, Lichtenstein, Benin and other exotic locations.

Okay, so I haven’t collected yet, I’ve been busy. But it makes me feel good and brings that sense of security I so do need. Something I don’t quite get from all those mails from the widows of dead dictators in Africa asking me to be a partner in charities and to stash their wealth for them. You get mildly wary when you grapple with the numbers. One of those dictators appears to have left behind 200 mourning widows, all of whom have written countless emails to me and millions of others. Weepy, dear darling mails. The lotteries are more cheerful and always upbeat. They give you a more exclusive feeling. And you never lose.

I’ve realised after his last three trips abroad that this is the same reason I so admire my prime minister. You always win a lot of money with him.  All across the world, not just in Amsterdam or Benin.  (He does travel a fair bit). And he’s been consistent on promises of money both before and after the 2014 elections.

Before the polls, his party and he promised to give each and every Indian Rs. 15 lakh. Because that’s how much all the black money stashed away abroad, sadly by Indians, stacks up to. Just you wait, he said. We’ll bring it back. Every last Swiss franc. We’d all be winners.  Equal winners. (This is now in slight dispute, since he’s promising a lot more to the Biharis than to the rest of us. Around 1.25 lakh crore is the number being bandied about. Some unkindly suggest this could be linked to the upcoming elections there, but that’s just cynical negativity).

And the prime minister surprised us by going much further than those guys in Amsterdam and Azerbaijan. He didn’t even ask  usfor our bank details. He created them. His government, he told the nation on Independence Day 2015, had set up 170 million new bank accounts. These were mostly for poor Indians who had never had one. And unique in that you can hold the account with zero balance. And indeed, 50 per cent or more of those accounts remain exactly that way. Zero balance. Imagine, tens of millions of Swachch Bharatvasi accounts, completely clean of cash or crime. No processing fee either. Certainly not 150 GBP anyway. Goodbye Lichtenstein. Public sector banks, saddled with countless crores of non-performing assets of the well-off, grumble that each account, used or not, costs money to set up. The entire process could possibly end up costing more than Rs. 2,000 crores, they say darkly. But bankers will be bankers. They always crib.

Mr. Modi also outdid himself at this year’s Vibrant Gujarat Summit. In just some 24 working hours across January 11-13, his model state signed up 21,000 Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) worth Rs. 21,000,000,000,00 (Rs. 2.1 trillion or $31.7 billion). On average that meant signing roughly 15 MoUs per minute, or one every four seconds. To go through each MoU at that pace argues speed-reading that would be the envy of Usain Bolt, if he’s into reading. Not quite as impressive, perhaps, as opening 170 million bank accounts at the rate of six every second. But inspiring, given that cracking the MoUs requires thousands of pages to be read. There’s nothing to read in zero-balance bank accounts. When you’ve read one zero, you’ve read them all. Alas, the Vibrant Gujarat website has no clear instructions on where and to whom stakeholders should be sending their bank details and 150 GBP processing fee.

Right now he’s telling us how to rake in the moolah from China’s misery. He’s apparently even summoned 40 of our wimpish captains of industry for a master class on this. The prime minister and his advisors scoff at the idea that the turmoil in the Chinese markets can hurt us. (They scoff at most ideas, but this one in particular, with good reason). Our fundamentals turned sound overnight in May 2014 and capitalism therefore works differently for us. The nationalistic flavour he brings to economic policy is imbued with that healthy competitive philosophy of beggar-my-neighbour. The Chinese, after all, are just Chinese. Did they have versatile vimanam that could fly forward and backwards in ancient days?

And remember that he  already signed agreements worth $10 billion during his visit to that country. If nothing has yet materialised, it’s probably because Xi Jinping and gang, hobbled by Confucian lethargy, haven’t sent in their bank details and processing fee as yet.  In any case, the amount is just about 1 per cent of the $ 1 trillion Mr. Modi has declared he will raise for us globally.

When you’ve got someone who performs as well as he does, expectations are naturally high. The pressure is on.  There’s 170 million eager bank accounts, at the minimum, awaiting something, anything. The pressure will surely mount when several amongst that number figure out that there are  bank accounts in their name. Thus far the emphasis has been on opening them with speed and rapidity. The ones who don’t know  will undoubtedly be informed in due course that they are account holders. Maybe when that first tranche of Rs. 15 lakhs turns up.

And make no mistake, the money’s coming. And not just from the black money stashed away overseas. There’s the $75 – 100 billion in investments from the UAE, $45 billion from the US, 2 billion euros from France, 3.5 trillion yen ($33.5 billion) from Japan, 1.82 trillion won ($10  billion) from South Korea, and more. There is also some minor outgoing traffic, like a  fund of $5 million to promote small businesses in Fiji. Or a few dollars more for the Bhutanese to play with a hydro-electric toy.  Or even the $1 billion credit promised to a bunch of dispossessed nomadic herders in Mongolia to help them discover  the joys of modern capitalism.

All of this in a little over a year.  I suggest we write polite notes  turning down the passionate pleas from the many Madam Abachas of Nigeria asking for help in spending their money. And send in our bank details and processing fees to Delhi. There’s a lot of achche din ahead. Well, a lot of din, anyway.

(Full disclosure: I’m the only person I know who has stated on record that Mr. Modi’s first year in office fully met and vastly exceeded his expectations. I had expected a mere disaster). 

Moral policing

I got this spoilsport SMS from the Navi Mumbai cops. “If you get SMS/email regarding lottery / unclaimed money/ prizes/ good job offer on ur mobile/ email, do not respond.” Police Commr, Navi Mumbai.

Originally appeared in Outlook.com