I am writing about the recent currency demonetization by the Government of India.
While the ATM queues were avoidable, they point to an implementation clumsiness and not policy. But then was it really that clumsy? We can't even manage queues at road toll booths. People have died not only in ATM lines, they are also dying at the door-steps of Hospital Emergencies, toll booths, waiting for PDS, Court hearing delays, Public transport, Road accidents and many more. Why single out Banks? It is in our nature to let people die in queues. I am all for changing that culture and increasing value of life – no matter whose.
We have queues here in Norway too, some of them even life threatening. Doctors, Lawyers, Immigration, Ferry, Traffic. They are just handled differently so that they are more bearable. We [in Norway] still let ourselves be grumpy about them.
I wouldn't renounce a positive intention for archaic queue and inventory management. Call this [demonetization] act - audacity or call it boldness, the feeling is hitherto leadership in the country hasn't shown any willpower to act at all to level privilege and contend entitlement fueled plunder. Hopefully and as stated this isn't the only measure but first step to harvest a low hanging fruit. Other major stores of black money – bullion, real estate, and foreign accounts are more complex to flush out. The mechanisms of generating black money: cash transactions and illicit services are also required to be controlled. Besides expelling current stock of black money, demonetization will provide support to transitioning towards a cashless economy and harbinger a cultural shift. If this turns out to be first and last measure then I am sure I will not be the only one who will be disappointed and outraged.
Some quarters are calling the act as a symptom of economic shortsightedness of the government. We do see that the cash economy will take a hit in the short run but what the current government shows is that it can take unpleasant decisions. It can act. I am not saying that if something is unpleasant then it must be naturally good for us; good for all of us equally. However in this case we expect that the current hardship is an investment for a better, cleaner future. A relevant question to ask here would be who has to bear that hardship and who will gain from that labor? It is interesting to note who is staking claims to the narrative here. The urban, well-to-do segment that is lamenting the most is not complaining about their own loss but the loss that the Have-nots will have to suffer. If demonetization ends up laying empathetic bridges between the classes then I think that alone could be a hallmark of success. However nothing of that sort is going on. It is just more valiant to champion a poor man’s cause, real or constructed. By definition – the Have-nots have not much to lose. Liquidity in the system is being restored and in any case daily wagers earn less than Rs 500 a day. No matter the language Haves use – it’s not difficult to see whom it affects the most if they shout the most.
I think knowledge & intellect are overrated, assuming there is a deficit of that in the current government. It loses relevance to society quite quickly if it doesn’t inform action. This government shows that they can act based on the best knowledge that they have and I have no reasons to doubt their intentions – as yet. We haven’t seen any other government in independent India displaying such political will and acting with such conviction in broader national interest. It is noteworthy here that the act pinches not only voters of the opposition parties but also a wide and firmly entrenched loyal base of the ruling party; BJP risks losing some of that loyal base. We can assume that BJP calculates that it would gain far more support than what they would lose.
There has been a hullaballoo about the survey that the Government conducted in the aftermath of demonetization. Despite some serious sampling biases that an App named after the PM will inherently have (and some innocuous biases in question framing) the survey does convey an overwhelming support for the measure despite the drudgery of queues that affects people across party affiliations. It is easy to understand that mood. People are ready to brave the storm. They are happy that something is actually being done to question someone’s taken-for-granted entitlement. You can ignore the results at your own peril. You can think that they do not know how they are being short changed but they think that this is a leveling measure. Will the support continue? That depends on how the fallout is now managed from logistical standpoint.
Further, I do not think that this step is the most potent among all conceivable steps for bridging class divide. Two purposes of currency are facilitating transaction and as a store of value. Language also serves similar purposes. No financial transactions are possible without words being spoken. Language 'notes' at transaction instances are minted from a society’s linguistic repository. That repository was demonetized long ago. The class that is most vocal because of demonetization of Rs 500 and 1000 notes says nothing about that gradual demonetization of our languages which was done by imperialists to serve their own interest. It would serve no purpose of the Haves. Let the people speak and then they will argue for themselves.