By now we know. Or, ought to know. Forty days is not a short period of time. What, then, is this demonetisation about?
The most significant thing about the way demonetisation has been played out so far is its choppy variableness in processes. Every day a new regulation. On many days, several course corrections.
Consider an illustration to see this in perspective. Demonetisation, let us say, is like a mission to land Indian astronauts on Moon. Imagine such an expedition being launched without attention to the processes involved, heedless to what it entails, the needs and emergencies that could arise, the time the mission would take, and the fuel required for completing the journey.
Imagine, the mission control, sitting in some hallowed station, effecting hourly improvisations to the astronauts to turn this way and that, now to swerve to the left, then to the right and then to shoot off to a different orbit altogether. Imagine, telling the astronauts, who had prepared for a two-weeks long flight, that there has been a slight miscalculation and that they would be floating in ether, in fact, for six months.
Imagine telling them that the mission control, in faithful obedience to peremptory orders from the centre for cosmic control, has now decided to direct the flight not to Moon but to Mars. What is not evident — and so goes unnoticed — is that behind these frenetic changes and flip-flops there is something steadfastly constant. The key to the visible flux and regulatory gymnastics is this constant.
There can be no flip-flop, except in among raving lunatics, without a fixed, hidden agenda. The daily course corrections, the think, the re-think and the de-think, all point to one thing. Demonetisation is a project devised with only one point of reference, a single purpose, which is different from what is sold to the public.
|A woman cleans an out-of-service ATM in Mumbai. (Credit: Reuters file photo)|
And that purpose is to maximise the advantage of the powers that be. This is seen as such by the political class on both sides of the divide. The political tug-of-war we have seen so far, in the wake of demonetisation, is a clear pointer to it.
Modi is chillingly right in saying that when the opposition parties accuse him of not preparing for this mother of all game-changers, all they are saying is that they were not given "time to prepare themselves" for what was coming. In the spur of the moment Modi did not realise, perhaps, that he was not only exposing the opposition parties but also letting the cat out of his own bag. The luging, lurching series of regulations are consistent in one respect. They serve to protect the fortunes of the ruling dispensation and disadvantage the rivals. Why were the predictables unforeseen?
The mission to Moon can be either a stunning reach of our scientific progress. Or, a publicity stunt for oneself. In the latter case, it is understandable if details basic to the mission take a place second to spotlighting oneself. This short-term gain could be a long-term loss. Flukes, however, are common in human affairs. So, there is hope still.
We are still left with a few questions:
Is India, the emerging economic super power, bankrupt in economists conversant with the basics of that discipline? Couldn’t the cash crunch, for example, have been foreseen and provided for?
Couldn’t the humungous inconveniences this entailed for the common man have been anticipated? Did no one know that much of rural India is unbanked? That ATMs would require to be re-calibrated to dispense with currencies of altered specifications? Why were these obvious things slurred over?
There can only be one reason for all of these. They were marginal to the core purpose of demonetisation.
I may buy any argument, any extravagant canard, any smirking absurdity about demonetisation. The one thing I will not, is that we have been led into this bog of demonetisation to secure a better deal for the poor.
There is another hypocrisy I cannot buy: the posturing of opposition parties that they are fighting demonetisation wholly on behalf of the poor.
This is hillarious! Modi is kicking us into cashless India only for the sake of the poor, a large percentage of which are illiterate and "cashless". His detractors are pulling him back by his tail, again, only for the sake of the very same poor of India who, the moment they hold a piece of plastic in their hands, we are told, will get promoted, like in some fairy tales, into a world of empowered well-being.
This political puppetry is not meant to benefit the poor. If there is any political will to help or serve the poor, there are far more meaningful, less traumatic, ways of pursuing that goal.
Why not start a few schools for the poor children in rural India? Why not a few more clinics and dispensaries in rural and tribal areas so that infant mortality rates in rural area do not have to embarrass us?
Why not provide safe drinking water to villages so that children do have to die like flies by the hour? Why not ensure protection for the rural and tribal women against rape and brutality?
Why not a few roads? A little more electricity? A few more jobs?
Before we offer them the Moon or the Mars on a platter or in a digital wallet, why not bring some of these basics within their reach? Why don’t these issues figure in Parliament?
I would suggest a small change. Please fix cameras in rural India and TV screens in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Let us reverse the flow. Rather than spreading cynicism in the country by telecasting the dysfunctions of the supreme seat of our democracy, let have the realities of the country beamed into Parliament.
This could have a sobering effect on our parties and parliamentarians. And make our lawmakers think more relevantly. Nothing else will.