Ranjona Banerji: Tactics to silence the gullible

By  Ranjona Banerji | Posted  21-Dec-2016

The Central government, which came to power offering ‘minimum government, maximum governance’, has managed to do the opposite

A supermarket employee in La Fria, Venezuela inspects the damage done by an angry mob protesting the government’s demonetisation move on Monday. Pic/AFP
A supermarket employee in La Fria, Venezuela inspects the damage done by an angry mob protesting the government’s demonetisation move on Monday. Pic/AFP

A demonetisation exercise in Venezuela has led to chaos. After riots and rage was rep­orted from across the country, the Ven­ezuela government rolled back the move for now. India has little in common with Venezuela, as far as its economy goes. The South American nation has been struggling economically and inflation is soon expected to cross 2,000 per cent. The 100 bolivar bill was worth some 14 cents when it was demonetised.

But there are comparisons with India’s exercise, which has caused little but misery, in spite of government cheerleaders screaming themselves hoarse, insisting that dead Indians are traitors and thieves and the suffering Indians are overjoyed in their grief. Venezuela is ruled by a dictator of sorts, who claimed to undertake this exercise to fight “contraband mafias” on the country’s borders. He said demonetisation failed because of international conspiracies, when the replacement currency did not arrive on time. His ministers took to mocking people who stood in line for hours to exchange their money.

None of the claims made by the Government of India appear to have even one toe in reality. Terrorists arrived at the Indian border with new Rs 2,000 notes, counterfeit Rs 2,000 notes appeared in the market before many Indians had even seen a real one. The so-called ‘black money’, which was to be ‘flushed out’, has been deposited into the banking system and scams and cheats are flourishing. Politicians have held lavish weddings for their progeny and people attached to the affluent have been found with hundreds of thousands of new currency notes, while people who stand in bank queues have barely managed to get one.

The explanation for this demonic idea has now shifted to the great delusion of creating a ‘cashless’ society where every Indian uses digital methods of payment. If that was indeed the glorious intention, then what was the need for the secrecy, what was the need for this sudden move? And once again, the sheer lack of forethought in implementation is staggeringly frightening.

Remember, this is the government which came to power offering “minimum government, maximum governance”. This demonetisation exercise has proved that we now have the exact opposite. Even worse, incompetence rules the day.

If you are happy to ignore all that earlier hogwash about black money and corruption and would rather ‘All Hail’ this idea of digitised payments, then, at the very least, with even half your brain power working, you need to question whether all of India is serviced by banks, point-of-sale machines, Internet connections and large servers. You need to check how many Indians use smart phones. You need to have cyber security laws in place to deal with fraud — which is already happening full scale.

Instead, you have the prime minister appearing as a model for two private companies, one selling an In­t­ernet connection and the other a mobile digitised wallet. Laudable as these objectives of public-private partnership may be, with no infrastructure in place, all we have are illusionary tactics created to silence a gullible public.

Sadly, we have an Opposition that has failed in its duty to the people. It is not just about different voices —after all, we have countless political parties, so one voice is out of the question. But it is about clear strategies so that the government cannot ignore the voice of the people. We have courts which have spent more time deliberating on the National Anthem at the movies than on the legality of stopping people from accessing their own money. We have a media which is partly captive — especially our esteemed television media. If any other government had reneged on its assurances and shifted those clichéd goal posts as much as this one has, it would have been ripped unceremoniously and deservedly to shreds. Remember what happened to UPA II once the India Against Corruption movement began?

As 2016 ends, the government’s word now means a Vedic ‘shuniya’. Soon after the dramatic announcement on November 8, the Union Finance Minister asked people not to panic because there was plenty of time till December 30 to deposit old notes. The new rule makes a lie of that — only R5,000 can be deposited once till year-end and only after suitable explanations made to two bank officials for the delay.

Maximum misgovernance, maximum intrusive government. Welcome to 2017.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com