Dharmendra Jore: It's all black and white

Updated: Nov 14, 2016, 08:13 IST | Dharmendra Jore

While the surgical strike on cash hoarders across the country is a masterstroke, it appears the government hadn’t thought of relief measures in advance

Experience is the best teacher. And I learnt it the hard way standing in a queue for almost three hours to withdraw money from a bank in Mumbai’s Sion area. People from all walks of life — the lower middle class, the middle class and upper middle class — street vendors, housewives, workers, professionals and students — became impatient as the process was delayed inside the bank.

Senior bank employees came out frequently to interact with angry people, assured them all possible assistance and also expressed regrets for inconvenience. Similar situations must have prevailed elsewhere, but let’s not rule out, as an aberration, unwarranted behaviour from the hapless bank employees and annoyed citizens.

The truth is that demonetisation of the currency notes of R500 and R1,000 has caused hardships to common citizens, who according to a popular assumption have not amassed black money. But it is equally true that the common citizens were ready to forget the hassles and they were happier mocking at the hoarders of unaccounted cash.

The rude comments that the commoners passed at politicians, traders, businessmen, builders and senior government officers, assuming that these people have all the black money, seemed to have
reaffirmed the support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drastic move.

However, what pulled a newsperson like me in a serious discussion with bank customers was their uneasy feeling of protest against government’s ill-preparedness in dealing with an unprecedented situation that has arisen after demonetisation of the currency notes that constitute largest part of currency in circulation.

It is not that the people did not understand the importance of secrecy that the PM and his team needed to maintain while catching the targets off guard, but they felt that Modi, who they believed had done something extraordinary, had failed miserably in saving them a suffering.

“Why are we forced to stand on the streets to withdraw our accounted for money from the banks?” they asked.

And as days passed, it became even more evident that the government hadn’t thought of relief measures in advance. This definitely reflected on a weaker side of Modi’s much-touted governance. As admitted by the Union minister of finance, the chaos would continue for at least three weeks.

Modi’s acclaimed planners may get credit for executing a surgical strike on cash hoarders, but they must also take blame for failing to foresee the ill effects on non-target population. Decisions were taken as and when issues cropped up. For instance, toll plazas were made free and payment of property tax, other government levies and utility bills was allowed in demonetised currency, when the uproar reached a peak. Private hospitals showed scant respect for the government’s command.

The government has not been able to determine the respective issues and solutions that the rural and urban population of our country faces in view of demonetisation. Farmers of cash crops and perishable items may not forgive the government as easily because of significant losses they have incurred. So is the case of urban workers and daily wagers. The list of people who feel for the country’s welfare even while suffering for no fault of theirs is endless.
Mandarins in the government may not accept the failure, but they should at least respond to the people who genuinely appreciate its efforts of improving our economy. The PM should clarify on the issues that are raised by independent economic experts.

He should assure that his decision will not meet the fate of similar decisions that were taken by earlier regimes (as in 1978 by late PM Morarji Desai). He should also come clear on the black money that has been invested in immovable assets and sent to international tax havens.

A pertinent question that we hear on the streets is about the money lying safe beyond the government’s reach and Modi’s assurance of getting it back to India.

Politicians from various parties — including a ruling combine — who have been queuing up to show solidarity with the hassled citizens, are up to creating a photo opportunity. Instead, they have ended up becoming the butt of a joke,
simply because they too are assumed to have amassed illegal wealth.

However, it is heartening to know that some of them are now demanding transparency in election expenses. Call it a political compulsion in view of Modi’s call, but the current situation has handed the PM an opportunity to check one of the root causes of growing black money in the country. In Japan, we heard Modi talking about the possibility of few more stern measures to be taken in near future. Let’s hope one of them will be against a poll-related black economy.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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