Demonetization and Political Discord

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More than two weeks days down the radical decision to demonetize the high value currency notes, it is now transparently clear that the government had not thought deeply enough. The myriads of problems that this move would throw up and the commensurate logistical response to it had not been visualized in all their multifariousness.

The woefully inadequate planning is the result of this paucity of thought. Bureaucracy has long since been depleted of talent because of the universal policy of opting for the pliant rather than the professional. Given the highly sensitive nature of the problem, the thought collective geared to this task was bound to be strictly limited, and the available talent further curtailed by the contingent nature of the choice.

Whether less radical measures were available, as the critics of the move have been suggesting, also may have some merit in it. Could it be that the political dividend at the end of the move is what blindsided and led to this unexceptionable decision in some hurry?

We are all eclipsed by the dark shadow that has fallen between a good idea and its shoddy execution. Even the large group of people who were its vocal supporters is beginning to be a little wary and the tentativeness of the government does not help matters much. It is very difficult to come by facts these days because facts are deployed in the service of particular causes; the supporters of government claim that the worst is over now and we shall live happily hereafter. Those opposed to the move claim that there is large scale despair and disquiet because the economic life of the country has stopped in its tracks. Facts have become Janus faced from one face they scowl at you from the other beam an endearing smile. But this much is clear that the disquiet and confusion at the national level is beginning to be felt and does not bode well. Now what?

For good or for bad, we are now committed to this course of action; rolling back would be an even worse option. Not only for the government - let it meet its just desert, who cares, but at an appropriate time - but for the nation at large. The nearest analogy to such a crisis one can think of is an ill-conceived and ill-timed war. But howsoever one may disagree with the war aims and its timing; one is obliged to lend full support.

Let us recall the national disgrace of 1962. The then PM is reported to have asked his Defence Minister to throw the Chinese, who were making border incursions, out. The Defence Minister went ahead and did what he was told. In a few days the stark situation was blown in the face of every countryman, including the folly of the lotus eating Defence Minister, yet the entire nation rallied behind the government, in an absolutely lost, hopeless cause.

What happened is now history but it has deeply scarred the psyche of a brave, professional army permanently. Those were uncomplicated times but democratic politics has immatured, repeat immatured, so much with time as to become unrecognizable. Nationalism, xenophobia and such other jingoistic traits have been long known to be minor neurotic disorders but in recent times it has bred its own anti dote, anti nationalism, a life style disease of the well heeled and very educated, so in the bitter feud between the “nationalists” and the “anti nationals,” the interest of the real, tangible nation which is home to 125 crore Indians, real people has been lost sight of.

The nature of our politics being what it is, the political parties would not allow Mr. Modi to walk with all the rewards should he pull it off without a major disaster and be left sucking their thumbs. To be fair, no opposition would have behaved any differently. Just as the government is invested deeply in the success of the programme, the political opposition - and those affected by it - sees rich dividends in its failure, in chaos and confusion. In the absence of a political consensus on any issue, it is like functioning in an atmosphere of 10 g. So an already difficult task becomes ten times harder.

The Indian poor are hugely inventive; they have seen calamities, food shortages, lack of basic amenities, official apathy. They have miraculously survived them all. Just let us think how best we, we who are a little better off, can make even a jot of difference to their situation. Their nerves are already jangled. Those who have a sense of history know that economic chaos is followed by political chaos, and political chaos is followed by restoration of order by some authoritarian agency. Those who are hoping for political gains out of economic chaos should think a few steps ahead. We are in the midst of a crisis because of a major goof up by the banking bureaucracy; do not seek to test the internal security apparatus. We who have seen it can tell them a thing or two.

India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Patiliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.


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