After successfully convincing the naïve among the Indian electorate in 2014 that he would usher in “Acche Din”, the campaigner-in-chief is now in phase 2 of his grand project. As he would like to remind the nation time and again, the blow was struck on November “8th at 8 pm”. The much-hyped sudden demonetization of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes that account for up to 87% of circulating currency with the purported aim of weeding out ‘black money’ has created chaos in the lives of ordinary Indians on an unprecedented scale.
To date, more than 80 lives have been lost – some waiting in serpentine queues to legitimize their own hard-earned money, some overworked in disbursing the new currency notes and some others just unable to pay in the new format even though they had enough of the old currency notes to buy healthcare including innocent young children. In a country where more than 85% of the working class receive their wages in cash and most of them on a day-to-day basis, the impact is staggering.
Millions are spending their valuable work hours in front of banks while the real hoarders that this ‘surgical strike’ was ostensibly aimed against continue their lives unperturbed in the luxury of their homes or wherever else they feel like home. As many are shell-shocked at this sudden financial calamity that is thrust upon them by the 56-inch chest that claims to lead them, the few with the actual ill-gotten wealth have already devised innovative strategies to use this chaos to their advantage.
To begin with, a bulk of their ill-gotten wealth has long been converted in to non-currency forms such as overseas assets, precious jewelry, much-more precious land holdings and other nefarious dealings that we are not even probably aware of. Whatever remaining hoards of cash that exist in the imaginative minds of Indians who are used to watching Sankar’s movies are effortlessly being converted into legitimate money using time-tested illegitimate means involving bank officers, income tax officials and cooperative banks headed by political cronies.
In spite of all this, there are many who still want to brush off the lives lost as a ‘minor inconvenience’ while a lot many others like to hang on to a myth that this could have been planned better. But the Prime Minister himself has gone on record stating that he planned this move for 10 months before the chosen time of “8pm on the 8th”. More than the monumental failure of this famed ‘surgery’ what is more appalling is the lack of empathy or rather the scale of ignorance of a large section of the people that tout themselves as nationalists and patriots while their fellow citizens suffer and choke under the stranglehold of this authoritarian regime.
But if we venture to examine the history a little bit, examples of such ignorance and an unshaken belief in miracles and pseudo-solutions are not too hard to find. For instance the decision taken by the then Election Commissioner Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan (or T N Seshan) to strictly enforce a limit on election expenditure for Lok Sabha MPs and MLAs in the 1990s was lapped up by the ‘educated’ middle class. It was deemed as a masterstroke that would curb the role of money in politics. Not only did the move fail phenomenally but as we fast forward to 2014, we can see how the influence of money on direct electoral politics has grown by leaps and bounds. Limits on expenditure still exist to this date and many MPs show officially that they have spent only 50% of the allowed limit!
We have reached a state in this country where an unwritten rule among all major political parties to select an MP nominee is for him or her to be a multi-millionaire. Seshan also clamped down heavily on poll graffiti and poll banners, etc., again with the same aim of striking at political corruption but all it did was to put painters and professional artists out of business while the wealthy nominees figured out other ways and went a step ahead to directly transfer cash to the voters!
Another instance that is much more recent and thus should be fresh in the memory of the ‘Imandaari’ brigade is the Lokpal bill. A Central Government version of this bill was passed in 2013 and a Delhi government version was passed by the poster-boy of anti-corruption movement Arvind Kejriwal in 2015. If this eyewash of a bill has done anything in tackling corruption is anybody’s guess but there is no dearth of people around us that get riled up in its defense.
This issue has only served its purpose of pacifying the petulant educated middle-class Indians while the ultra-rich Ambanis and Adanis had their last laugh in changing regimes and scripting new definitions of corruption at the highest level. These issues highlight the fact that misguided solutions cause lasting damage leave alone solving problems. It is akin to seeking untested ayurvedic therapies to cure cancer which not only is ineffective but may actually shorten the life of the patient because of collateral damage.
In essence, this ‘shock and awe’ demonetization move has its fate sealed in history books (assuming India will unshackle itself from fascist regimes in future to be able to have a fair written history) as another Houdini act that has fooled the gullible by acting against the very interests of the people that it claims to benefit and catering to the very few that it claims to target.
And to all those who want to paint voices of dissent as obstructionist, the real cure for corruption if there is one is in investing heavily in the health and education of the masses of this country so that they can leap out of their social and economic shackles and script their own success stories. And that alone is a true solution that will empower millions short of redistribution of wealth in the country to which this upwardly mobile ‘Imaandari’ brigade is dead-against.
Dr Nijam Gara is a gastroenterologist, hepatologist and rationalist thinker based in the US. His articles are devoted towards voicing the concerns of downtrodden and marginalized communities.
Originally published in CaravanDalily