Marriage ceremonies are lavish and ostentatious affairs for the rich and well-to-do. For Indian business barons and politicians, the display of opulence begins with the wedding invite, demonetisation or no demonetisation!
As the common man struggled to withdraw his hard-earned money standing in ever-growing serpentine queues, a wedding extravaganza was organised by former BJP minister, Gali Janardhan Reddy, in Karnataka, for his daughter Brahmani, on November 16-17. The groom was Rajeev Reddy, son of Andhra Pradesh businessman Panyam Vikram Deva Reddy, with global business interests including in Africa.
Billed as the biggest and fattest Indian wedding of 2016, it has attracted everyone’s attention in the country, due to the astronomical amount spent on the same. Media reports from Bangalore suggest that the event cost INR 1-5 billion.
The wedding invites arrived in blue boxes with LCD screens that showed the family performing a three-minute choreographed routine to a song that had been specially written for the occasion. The Bengaluru Palace Grounds were transformed to resemble the medieval Vijaynagar Empire — complete with villages and temples.
Janardhan Reddy, 49, is on bail after languishing in jail for 40 months, for his alleged involvement in the multi-core mining scam that rocked Karnataka in 2010-11.
Karnataka Governor, Vajubhai Vala, State Home Minister, G Parameshwara, Energy Minister, DK Shivakumar, Rural Development Minister, HK Patil and former chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa were among the 50,000 invitees.
Five days later, taxmen slapped a 15-point questionnaire to daddy Reddy to disclose the expenditure he had incurred on various functions conducted — during the pre-marriage, marriage and post-marriage — with the number of guests who attended the event and the source of such expenditure, by November 25.
Even as Reddy got his daughter married off in style, the demonetisation decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8 rocked thousands of wedding plans across the country.
Of course INR 1,000 and INR 500 currency bills that ceased to be legal tender affected weddings that were already fixed. What has troubled parents, prospective brides and grooms across the country most is the limit imposed on withdrawal of money from their own accounts. For engagements, marriages and post-marriage celebrations, INR 250,000 is too little. And this amount too can be withdrawn only if all the documents are submitted to the bank by the families of the bride and groom. This acute cash crunch has forced many families to push weddings to 2017.
With the exorbitant cost of weddings that entails huge expenses — invitations cards, dresses, gold and jewellery, gifts to brides and grooms, care of relatives and guests, music band, flowers, photographer, videographer, rituals and ceremonies, tents, catering, parties and expenses for honeymoon as well — one wonders what the logic behind the INR 250,000 withdrawal limit is.
One custom prevalent in North India is to welcome the bridegroom with a garland of currency notes. Such garlands are available in shops and street bazaars. Grooms sporting garlands made of currency notes of 10, 100, 500 or 1,000 rupee denominations are a common sight in the country. Non-resident Indians, on the other hand, do it their own way, going for garlands made of dollar/pound/euro bills.
Now that the pink notes of INR 2000 have hit the market, this high-value denomination is being strung together to make garlands, to be sported by grooms on their weddings as a mark of shagun (token of gratitude and goodwill).
Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of India is helpless. Its directive to discourage people from using garlands made of currency notes has fallen on deaf ears.
RBI could only appeal, as there is no specific provision under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, or under the RBI Act, 1934, to check such misuse of notes.
One wonders how long the INR 250,000 ceiling on withdrawal for wedding purposes will remain in force.
Others who have suffered include families that have witnessed the deaths of near and dear ones post-demonetisation. Policymakers seldom realise that funerals in India are expensive too, though not as much as weddings.
One prevalent question among the masses quite rightfully is whether the move to demonetise the high-value currency bills imbibe a deep-rooted double standard. While Prime Minister Modi aspires to curb black money and corruption by demonetising notes, how can convicted business honchos be finding ways around to splurge shameless amounts of money on weddings? One can’t help but wonder about the fallacy of living in a democracy where grooms are adorned with garland of hundreds of the same currency bills that thousands of citizens are fruitlessly queuing up for outside ATMs every single day. The paradox is as much about the definition of democracy as is with the unholy processes that empower the powerful while the masses stay helpless. The policymakers, for once, must strive to win over the masses by walking the talk and not letting the wrongdoers sneak through the bureaucratic loopholes.