- economy, Opinion, politics

The Age of ‘De-s’ and De-monetisation

Birinder Pal Singh

With the advent of modernity new age of ‘de-s’ has set in. All traditional institutions and processes have to be de-codified and de-constructed. The first one to come into being and function is de-mystification, a project of modernity and the modern science based on the new premises of reason and rationality. These are the principles of enlightenment for a novel understanding of nature and society hitherto encoded in metaphysics, mystery and mythology. The science believes these forms of knowledge as fictitious that takes people away from the real and reality hence liable to be duped by certain vested interests. The real is amenable to testing and retesting, to the indices of reliability and validity. All else is fictitious, hence worthy of rejection. This applies to religion also which until then, and still to an extent, was a dominant mode of making sense of the world around us. The project of modernity believes that religion be pushed to the private sphere that would ultimately disappear or at best will remain confined to the believer. Incidentally, it has not happened, definitely not in India where the television and information technology have given an impetus to its growth and expansion.


The postmodernity sets in with the linguistic turn that calls for de-construction of literature and culture. The society, thus, enters the postmodern era. The de-construction in a way also de-mystifies its subject matter by discovering gaps and silences, motives and designs of the author in a symptomatic reading to situate the text in its context. There is a spate of studies based on de-construction and the thaw has yet not set in.

De-territorialisation is another buzz word of the last few decades since globalisation is supposed to spread the benefits of economic development across nation-states whose boundaries are expected to be porous for the movement of capital and technical know how. The world is shrinking due to ICT and time-space distanciation a la Giddens, and the resulting hybridisation of literature and culture, as suggested by Robertson, is leading to glocalisation. The humankind will now think globally and act locally. Such is the vision of the hegemonic economic powers of the world in whose foot steps we tend to move by ‘making in India.’


The de-monetisation had earlier been introduced on the Indian scene in 1978 to check the menace of counterfeit currency and also to flush out the black money. As far as the first measure is concerned, it proved effective but so far as the second issue is concerned, it could hardly serve any purpose. If it could stall accumulation of black money, it would not have assumed such huge proportions in our economy over the last three decades. If that had been effective, only then a booster dose is necessary for the health of the country’s economy. I wonder if it is so.

We are informed that India is at the top of the five most corrupt countries in the world with an estimated Rs. 76,00,000 crores or US $ 1456 billion in the Swiss Bank followed by a poorer Russia with US $ 450 billion. It is understandable with the rule of a single party in a closed political system but what about India, the largest democracy in the world and yet four times ahead of the number two in position.


There are estimates that if that money is brought home every Indian can be given a Tata’s Nano car and every new born child will be gifted same for another 365 days. How does de-monetisation bring that money home? The ruling party came to power on that plank and now settled for de-monetisation only that is causing harassment to the poor only who depend on small currency. The rich are hardly affected. They may suffer decline in production and sales while the poor cannot even cremate their dead.


If one believes that de-monetisation of big currency can flush out black money, then 1978 operation would have been more effective by throwing Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 10,000 notes in the bin with a single stroke. That currency was rare and most people had not ever seen those notes, including myself. Now 86 per cent currency in circulation is in high currency notes that goes to the bin. If at all necessary, why could this de-monetisation drive not be hassle free? Why sufficient currency in its new avatar could not be pumped into the banks and the market? Moreover, if big currency is the source material for easy hoarding, then why Rs. 2,000 note that one finds difficult to use for small shopping. Why did authorities not take note of the Labour Commission report that shows 77 per cent people in the country are living at Rs. 20 per day? Why was the size of new currency notes different that calls for resetting the ATM machines all over the country?


My own considered opinion is that the government’s action or to be accurate, the Prime Minister’s surgical strike, as he claims the sole responsibility of this rapid action such that there are no leaks, is taken in utter haste oblivious of the problems of the majority poor people. Once again for the black deeds of the rich, poor are paying through their nose. They have to stand in long undulating queues before the banks while others sleep there, for themselves as also for their employers. Some are being coerced to accommodate the employers’ black money for which they are likely to get kicked from both sides. The Nobel laureate in Economics and the former World Bank chief Paul Krugeman is not only sceptical of de-monetisation but calls it ‘highly disruptive’. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister and an economist is more harsh in calling it ‘organised loot and legalised plundering’.

Such haste reminds us of Muhammad Tuglaq. The haste in this case seems to be the forthcoming elections not elsewhere but primarily in Uttar Pradesh. The poor are being impressed upon, this state has them in plenty, that the time for achhe din has arrived.  The black money will be flushed out. The media too makes them believe. But those with the Swiss Bank accounts must be feeling happy with this surgical strike. The bigger fish is not touched and the official statistics reveal that the black money in currency is mere five to six per cent of the total in India, a small figure indeed, a mere tip of the top of the iceberg. How this flushing out will empty the larger tank with black matter? This alludes towards the politics of de-monetisation.


If counterfeit currency allegedly smuggled from Pakistan is to be made defunct, then how could hauls of new high currency notes be captured from Bengaluru to Mohali and from East to the West in less than a few weeks away from the surgical strike. The Modi-fied currency could not reach the banks and the people but some are carrying loads of it with them. The black money is already being made out of it. The bank managers and middle-men in money laundering are allegedly making hay in the shining sun. The Income Tax department is yet to show its colour. The poor people cannot draw their own money without paying for it. This is a newly Modi-fied trend in corruption. The employees of the Haryana Roadways at Delhi also went on dharna against their officials for whitening own black money.

Two issues assume importance here. One, corruption, which is so deep rooted in our country that it is a Herculean task to stem it out. It is in our blood. We do not believe an officer who genuinely clears a file. We doubt his integrity. My pessimism does not let me believe its eradication from our system. It has become a part of our genetic make up. This is one ‘programme’ our political elite nurtured over the last seventy years and we stand out tall amongst the corrupt nations of the world.


Two, de-politicisation of Indian government and administration is necessary. It is another ‘de-’ that is significant in the present times when the political parties are working narrowly for parochial vested interests with utter disregard for the people and the nation. All parties are going jingoistic in proving their credentials of patriotism more than others forgetting Johnson that it is the last refuge of the scoundrel. The decision of the Supreme Court to inculcate respect for the national anthem, out of all places in the Cinema halls, is seemingly influenced with the politics of nationalism. How can respect be instilled forcibly by closing the gates of the cinema halls? How does one ensure that none will move out in the last minutes of the show?


When something is imposed, no matter the good intentions, it is bound to be violated. The judgement seem to have an oversight with regard to the fact that that Jana gana mana not only has a rival in Vande mataram but it is about constructing an abstract nation into a state, and integrate all its communities and people starkly different from one another. Tagore definitely had not thought of hyphenating the nation and the state but the century old history of modern India is replete with such attempts that assumed prominence in the recent past too. The case against Kanahiya Kumar and others of JNU followed by the beef catchers and lately the gau-rakshaks are clear indicators of majority nationalism. On one side we are demanding respect for the national flag and the anthem, on the other side we are allowing use of the tricolour by anyone and anywhere. How does one respect it when it is more likely to be found littered with polythene packs and other garbage on the roadsides of the not soswachh Bharat?

We know for sure that India is a conglomerate of nationalities and communities that may be kept integrated following the Nehruvian principle of ‘unity in variety’ and the Gandhian policy of sarva dharma sambhava. Over the last seven decades, we have had numerous so-called separatist movements across the country. The youth whose number is invariably high in cinema goers are surely going to act as self proclaimed vigilantes against anybody they wish to insult and harass in a milieu of cheap and populist politics especially when the state and its apparatus have already withdrawn from performing its role effectively. The case of Salil in the wheel chair for not ‘respecting’ the national anthem in Maharashtra is known to us.


Thus, we must move towards de-nationalising the sectarian and regional politics which is otherwise in consonance with de-territorialisation, if globalisation is understood and applied in its true sense. The hegemonic economic and political powers have it on their agenda but we must strive for a truly global village and world democracy for the good of everybody.


Author Birinder Pal Singh taught at Punjabi University, Patiala. (e-mail: birinder_pal@rediffmail.com)

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