With the de-monetisation process on its last legs, it is time to discuss some aspects of the move variously described by Indian as well foreign media as a surgical strike, an economic Pokhran, the greatest economic reform since independence etc. Some points in this discussion may appear repetitious, but they need to be stated again if only to get the big picture that is more political than economic, which it should primarily have been.
Woven into this tale of an unprecedented, bold, big-bang economic reform are sub-texts of inconveniences for the middle class and hardships for the poor and precariously employed, like the daily wagers, temporary employees, marginal farmers, street vendors etc. Also getting into another sub-text are macabre tales of deaths in Q’s, marriages disrupted, dowries unfulfilled and Maaike-returned brides and even small boys committing suicides because parents were unable to buy them promised new mobiles due to the shortage of cash.
A million other tales too got created and circulated-of how clever bank managers and employees were “commissioned” to change banned notes into sweet-smelling new 2000 rupee notes; of how RBI’s own employees too got into the act etc. Plenty of genuine happiness was spread with further tales of tax evaders, black money hoarders, smugglers and even dreaded Maoists getting caught in the act with their pants down, so to say. A state chief secretary was also found helping a sand mining mafia with smooth ‘exchanges’ of old into new notes.
But, buried under an avalanche of such exhilarating news as well as news of extreme hardship were also tales of ex-bank employees and officers coming out of retirement to work for free in the national task of making the de-mo work and reduce people’s hardship in getting equitable shares of the admittedly meagre supplies of new notes; of bank managers boldly withstanding pressures and even threats from gangsters, netas and mantris to ‘oblige’; of small retailers and vegetable vendors helping their customers with small loans to buy the stuff; of millions of traders, vendors and wholesalers going digital and making the de-mo pain more and more bearable.
But the biggest take-away (our media’s favourite expression) is the media’s own role in the 50-day-old drama in cahoots with the politicians. I am delineating this aspect in a bit more detail.
The Indian media, like the rest of the world, was in shock and awe initially but bounced back with greater vigour and venom to engage itself in the age-old game of Modi bashing. Myriad stories began circulating, all indicating that de-monetisation was hurtling to a resounding crash and that Modi was destined to fail spectacularly.
The foreign media, which initially had praised Modi as a leader with uncanny imagination and unsuspected boldness, came back with their own definitive opinions of how de-monetisation was unsustainable, how India’s GDP growth was severely compromised and how it would take India at least a couple of years to get back its economic health and growth. The Washington Post, New York Times, The Economist, Time, The Guardian, The WSJ, HuffingtonPost and all the big and not so big names jumped into the fray with unconcealed glee to condemn Modi for embarking on a wasteful misadventure and doubtful returns. Even China’s controlled media, represented by Global News had a thing or two to say on our de-mo!
Like our own Sonia Gandhi, who called Modi a “maut ka saudagar”, Steeve Forbes of the Forbes magazine went so far as to call Modi’s decision “breathtaking in its immorality” and “a shocking move of committing a massive theft of people's property without even the pretence of due process”! It hardly mattered to the Indian media and politicos that just a few weeks earlier, the same “foreign media” was badly mauled in its devastatingly damaging war with Donald Trump, with their credibility totally destroyed!
Buoyed by the media coming back, with great alacrity, to support its “cause”, the opposition went in to the attack with a now-or-never spirit of combat, magnifying, with colourful anecdotes, the ‘heart-rending hardship’ faced by the common man. Taking leave of all political morality and wisdom, Assaduddin Owaisi claimed that Muslim majority areas were being harassed by starving ATMs of much-needed cash in new notes. Mayawati too was not far behind, loudly decrying attempts allegedly aimed at throttling the ‘Dalit economy’ and personal harassment because of her Dalit leader status!
Put out to pasture for the last two and a half years, former prime minister Manmohan Singh was brought out and given his two minutes’ time in the Sun, to declare in the Rajya Sabha that Modi had committed a “monumental mismanagement (of the economy), an organised loot and legalised plunder (of the poor people)”! Parliament was not allowed to function for the entire duration of the winter session holding Modi responsible for undermining the working of the parliament.
Simultaneously, Rahul Gandhi, a non-serious leader at the best of times, was being pushed to spearhead the attack on the government and also personally on Modi. The opposition, fragmented on the issue of de-mo was sought to be galvanised behind the dashing young leader, who had begun to talk eighteen to a dozen at all times and on all occasions. With the single-minded determination, he hammered at the theme that de-mo had failed miserably and also that 1.3 billion people were made to undergo untold hardship for nothing.
But despite the on-again, off-again attempts at opposition unity, it was hard to come by, with significant sections like BJD, JDU and several small units not having anything to do with the non-serious Gandhi. Even Kejriwal was not willing to share the dais with the Congress V.P.
Yet, what made the whole drama interesting was the media’s own moves. Several leading editors, many of whom had been rendered jobless and some even homeless by the advent of a ruthless Modi government, had begun to see the possibility, however remote, of Modi biting the dust if de-mo failed, even if nominally, and began “planning” accordingly.
With the opposition parties fragmented hopelessly, they saw that the only possibility of unity has to be founded on the premise of Rahul Gandhi assuming his ‘rightful’ role as the head of the dynasty in a loadstar position. Editorials and Opinion pieces began appearing all over the country, which had one salient aspect to them: they had begun seeing Rahul Gandhi in a new light as if all of a sudden!
The Telegraph of Kolkata wrote a long editorial on 17th December, possibly penned jointly by the Sarkar brothers themselves, with the rather tantalising title, “ARRIVAL AT LAST”, suggesting in abundantly clear terms that the frustratingly long-delayed thing was happening-that Rahul Gandhi had finally “arrived”! The Sarkar brothers suggested that it was all a matter of an unduly long gestation and that it was also his mother’s long shadow, which had hid behind itself a Rahul, who took his time to realise that he had a mind of his own and that he had a commitment to the future of his party and also India!
The edit goes on to claim that the long gestation period saw Rahul shed his prolonged adolescence and attain political maturity, also enabling him to see clearly that his motherland was on the verge of a colossal economic disaster!!! (http://www.indiapress.org/gen/news.php/The_Telegraph/400x60/0)
Prabhu Chawla, the veteran editor of The New Indian Express in his opinion piece on Sunday last was equally exuberant in investing Rahul with hitherto unknown, unsuspected leadership qualities and elevated him to a position of a leader only who could mount a sustained challenge to Modi.
There are many others who hold similar hope bordering on prayer that Modi would somehow be bested as well as worsted. It is a different matter that even before the ink on the editorials had dried, Rahul had begun his flip-flops. In his Mehsana Gujarat rally, Rahul accused Modi of personal corruption asking him to step down and face investigation.
This was his much-promised earthquake! It hardly bothered him that the charges were earlier in that week ridiculed by the SC bench calling them “zero, a bunch of lies and fictitious”. Back in Delhi Rahul was also attacked by several opposition parties for sabotaging opposition unity by going and meeting Modi separately on an insignificant issue! In sum, Rahul was behaving true to his image of a mindless, non-serious leader.
Though Rahul has shown his penchant for flip-flops and attempting to punch far above his (light) weight once too often, the editors' ardour for him doesn’t seem to diminish. But in all likelihood, the Indian people seem to be having other ideas, one of which, mainly, is to see a prolonged growth period under the able stewardship of Narendra Modi.
The day of reckoning is close at hand.