Demonitisation: Cashless is the king


Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing an unsuspecting and a ‘reluctant’ India through monetary asceticism which could lead the country to becoming a ‘cashless paradise’ long spoken of in our spiritual and even fiscal scriptures. When the Prime Minister delivered his banking bomb last month, few would have thought that this was actually a harkback to India’s ancient spiritual and economic traditions in which money is referred to as maya and its character is described as extremely fickle and treacherous.

Under the new dispensation, even Dharamraj will have to learn computers to digitise our hell-worthiness. Our religions always complained that the nature of maya is fickle. The Modi masterstroke has tried to make it less fickle, more reliable and verifiable. Cyber will replace the spiritual — and both are equally intangible if not unreal.

However, Modi was inspired more perhaps by hardcore fiscal ground realities than by the philosophical unrealities of religion. Cashless society is seemingly a modern and Western fetish. Terms such as “plastic money’ — or, at a more advanced stage — “digital money” are just sophisticated covers to hide another driving force which is central to the cashless fetish: centralised control through the use of invisible technologies. So technology, which was supposed to democratise power through universalisation of information will actually create new dictators sitting on top of all information even on our private lives.

It is true of course that under practically every political system, governments have their hands thrust firmly into the citizen’s pockets. But up to now, governments had just so many hands. Pockets always and easily outnumbered government hands, no matter how many. Paper currency is a symbol of governmental control not only over the citizen’s money but even on his spending and “other” habits.

But to exercise this control, the government needs an elaborate system of fiscal monitoring, and this is not an easy task. Once ‘paper cash’ leaves the government mint, it develops a mind of its own and chooses its destinations and picks its own routes to reach those destinations. Governments practically lose control over something to which they gave birth — cash currency. Maintaining the character profile of every note that leaves the mint becomes an impossible task.

It is because of this “free will” of every currency note to chart its own course that governments need an elaborate taxation regime and massive armies of governmental officials at various levels to put this regime in place and keep it functional. As cash currency leaves the mint or even a banking hub, it declares its independence of the system. Cash currency hates any interference in its sovereignty. Every paper note wants to live its life on its own terms. The last place a coin or a note wishes to lodge itself in is a government treasury, and worse, a banking strong room. It is the nature of currency to remain ‘current’ — constantly renewing its contract with life. The old order has changed, and the new has not yet taken over. So, think up new tools for new rules.




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