India’s teetotaler Prime Minister Narendra Modi almost fueled a booze binge on New Year’s eve in the nation’s cities.
As his scheduled speech drew nearer, pubs announced Modi-themed drinking games while Indians sought solace through social media humor. The last time Modi had addressed the nation, on Nov. 8, it had ended with him canceling 86 percent of currency in circulation and unleashing chaos in a country where almost all consumer payments are made in cash.
Modi had likened the move to a bitter medicine to help cure tax evasion and graft. Many saw it differently.
“Come get a drink on us,” pub chain Social, which has 15 outlets across the nation, announced on Facebook. “If we’re going down, we’re going down together.”
Social offered a pint of beer or an alcohol shot for 31 rupees ($0.5) each time Modi uttered “mitron,” which means friends in Hindi. That compares with 85 rupees for a pint of Kingfisher beer it normally charges customers. Mobile wallet company Mobikwik — backed by Sequoia Capital — promised lucky users a 100 percent cashback.
Mitron entered the Urban Dictionary soon after Modi’s fateful Nov. 8 address, when he peppered his speech with the word while announcing the ban on high-value currency notes. It now describes “a large group of unsuspecting people, about to be hit by something they will take a long time to recover from.”
When 7:30 p.m. arrived on the last day of 2016, Indians huddled around their television sets.
Partying versus Praying
About 80 percent of Indians aged 15-29 evince at least some interest in politics, the 10th highest of about 40 countries surveyed in the OECD’s Society at a Glance 2016 report. The nation, however, was among the world’s five lowest alcohol consumers as drinking is seen as a taboo that must be limited to social events.
“Probably the first time when, on Dec. 31, people will be partying less and praying more,” @MrTippler tweeted. “Mitron, go home, you are drunk.”
WhatsApp had begun buzzing earlier with cartoons depicting trepidatious citizens. The medium has been a source of much ridicule over the past 50 days, with messages ranging from rumors about location sensors embedded in new currency notes to Modi’s party’s plan to hand out sweets to citizens to thank them for their cooperation.
New Year Resolution
The withdrawal of banknotes was quickly lampooned by citizens enraged about having to queue at cash machines for hours to withdraw their own money, complicated by almost daily regulatory flip flops.
Meanwhile, economists have slashed their growth estimates for India as consumption sputters. The political opposition is looking to use the fallout of Modi’s move to gain an advantage before key state elections this year.
See how the economic indicators stack up following demonetization
In his 45-minute speech, Modi offered easier and cheaper loans to farmers and small businessmen as well as 6,000 rupees cash for pregnant women. He defended the cash clampdown and vowed to crack down on corruption.
He, however, didn’t elaborate on measures to fight graft and belied speculation that he’d provide details on how much unaccounted cash was exposed by his move. Authorities have also retained strict caps on cash withdrawals and Modi didn’t offer a new date for when the cash crunch would ease.
Moreover, how many times did he say “Mitron,” which would have allowed citizens to drown their sorrows more cheaply? Zero.
“So much for cheap beer,” tweeted Kushan Dutta, whose profile shows he lives in Modi’s prohibitionist home-state of Gujarat. “The one sop we deserved.”