THE CREEPS and bandicoots that infest India’s politics and bureaucracy, who sit plum on ill-gotten money, had the shock of their lives when Prime Minister Modi addressed the nation on November 8 and announced the demonetization of high-value currencies. The midnight strike on stash was to begin four hours hence, when all the high-denomination currency notes, “would be turned into waste paper” as the PM said.
These 500 and 1000 denomination notes could however be exchanged in banks in the coming days – with a rider that those who do this will have to identify themselves, for each of the notes thus carried, by carrying with them their identity cards and filling a form.
What was claimed as the Central government’s surgical strike on black money had won instant applause from the general public, but the euphoria was short-lived. Things might be a success only to an extent, and the trouble the exercise spawned on the people at large in the days that followed was too much to bear. The blame should essentially be on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while Prime Minister Modi cannot escape the blame either. In fact, there’s an absolute messing up of what should have been a carefully thought-out governmental step. While the PM said there would be some difficulties in the coming days, and be prepared, the people were prepared to be game with it for a couple of days, but had not expected it to be as worse as it turned out to be.
The ATM machines, the center-piece of money transactions in cities across the country –over two lakh of them–went into closure mode, and people struggled their way through for their immediate requirements for cash. What Jaitley has crooned now is it would take two to three weeks to set things right. The adverse impact this will have on national economy is huge.
With no liquid cash in people’s hands, sales in shops have plummeted. With ATMs not functioning for days, no one has money to do anything. A reason is not enough of new notes were stocked at distribution hubs before the demonetization step was announced. So, banks too are hit by shortage of currency. Worse, the ATM machines need be reconfigured to accommodate the new notes that were of a different size. The question arises as to why Jaitley, who was a party to the highly confidential decision, had not taken measures to avoid such hassles?
The secrecy factor, wherein lies the success of the scheme to a large extent, is understandable. But, that secrecy is all about the demonetization. Not about introduction of new notes, like the Rs 2000 one. What prevented Jaitley to have the ATM machines reconfigured in advance, at least some of them in every locality, so as to keep new notes and hundred rupee notes, once the new bundles were ready for distribution?
The ATM machines – over two lakh of them – went into closure mode, and people struggled their way through for their immediate requirements for cash. Jaitley now says it would take two to three weeks to set things right. The adverse impact this will have on the national economy is huge. With no liquid cash in people’s hands, sales in shops have plummeted. With ATMs not functioning for days, no one has money to do anything. A reason is not enough of new notes were stocked at distribution hubs before the demonetization step was announced. So, banks too are hit by the currency shortage. Worse, ATM machines need be reconfigured to accommodate the new notes that were of a different size.
It would require of him to know the ground situation. But, how would politicians like him understand the ground scenario when they live in glass houses? When they appear before the public, they appear on public platform to pontificate to the people. They do not have a finger on the pulse of the people, other than when they sweat it out in the streets to seek votes and win an election.
As it turned out, chaos spread across the country in the aftermath of the demonetization exercise, and even some deaths have occurred due to the mass hysteria and erratic crowd behavior before the banks.
This aside, it is curious to see how large sections of India’s political class reacted to the demonetization step, while the equally hurt bureaucracy with bundles of ill-gotten wealth hidden in their individual cash chests could only shiver and were not in a position to openly show their anger and exhaustion over what had happened to them
overnight. The political class, the breed that made a cut out of every governmental deal, and a cut from even what pimps and prostitutes make across the cities as well, is provoked no end.
To start with, many of them did not know how to shower abuses on the government for dumping gravel into their porridge. But the chaos that followed in the subsequent days gave them the energy to wake up, and make a hue and cry. “Why all this? The common man is hurt and struggling, what a mess,” these uncouth pretenders screamed over the microphones of TV channels. They do not see the good that is coming about and around. Strangely, however, support for the governmental measure came from one of the most unexpected quarters – Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar, who generally uses every situation to spite Narendra Modi. Nitish supported the demonetization, saying it was a good step.
The reason, however, is not far to seek. He is among the few supposedly clean politicians of our times and there could be no bundles or gunny bags of currency notes stashed in family cupboards. He looked at the governmental step positively. But, one who is vehement against the demonetization is West Bengal’s popular chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who went to the extent of saying she would now take the support of the CPI(M), her main political rival, to fight this governmental step.
True, the role of those close to her – if not herself – in the Saradha chit fund scam and the Narada tape expose, is still fresh in our memory. However, there’s more to it. It is safe to assume that the crafty Bengal leader has something up her sleeves.
Which is that, she is setting her eyes on 2019, the next parliamentary polls, for which India’s regional satraps are just about getting set, aiming to win power, with or without Congress support. Now, this is time for Banerjee to take her first step forward, rather than leaving the opportunity exclusively to the wayward Bihari and UP politicos.
The PM coat that she had stitched with fine Bengal cotton, with a blue ribbon tied around it, is still kept in good shape in her family wardrobe. Its time should come. And, this here is the time to make a fresh try. Last time, in 2014, there was a more formidable woman contender, with whom the leader from Kolkata had opened a hotline to push the cause for prime ministership. “Either you or me, not the monkey (Modi).”
Jayalalithaa is now down, hospitalized, her chances of staking the claim for the PM post in 2019 dimming. Who else is there, other than the likes of the UP and Bihar clowns, who are not a class, anyway? And, the Brahiminical aspirations to re-grab power at the Center are there on the one side, which needs to be harvested, while the Nehru family that held the baton so far is now in the most unenviable situation.
Here now is the time. It’s time to sell the idea of Bengali Bhadralok unity. The toothless CPI(M) is no more a threat to her. So, why not court them as sidekicks? Sitaram Yechury would only be enthused. The demonetization may not have a big impact on black money. But, even a little impact is worth the effort taken.
The corrupt in India are a craftier lot, many of them eating the dirty pie through generations, and picking the tricks of the trade from their fathers and forefathers. Fixing them is no easy job.
They are more intelligent than those who are out to stop them in their tracks. It must be stressed that the Modi government has not been able to do the job properly. It has not been able to maintain the secrecy of the operation, which was vital. A journal in Gujarat came out with a report months ago, predicting exactly what the government has done now, including the introduction of two thousand rupee notes.
And, Andhra Pradesh’s funny chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who has a passion to take credit (“I did it in Hyderabad”) for all what goes right around him, had sensed what was coming, and issued an appeal to the Centre three weeks ago, urging the PM to demonetize the 500 and 1000 rupee notes! No one knows how he got wind of this; but true to his character, he sought to turn it into his advantage, to tom-tom it as his baby, much to the disadvantage of the nation! That would have helped many of his sidekicks in politics and businessmen in AP and beyond to escape the demonetization dragnet. Some service!
A top BJP politician in Punjab has put the images of the new currency notes on his social media site, many days in advance, to publicize it to the world. Suffice it to say that such are the creeps that infest Indian politics as its leaders today.
The Article First Appeared In Caravan Daily