When the captain of a ship does not know where his destination is, and when he is not aware of the direction in which he is headed for, it bodes ill for his passengers, who willy-nilly are simply following the captain without knowing where they will end up or how they will get there. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, is now captaining India without knowing where he is eventually going. He has lost his compass!
When he announced his demonetisation drive on November 8, he informed the nation that this was his way of ending the circulation of “black money” and creating a corruption-free economy. We were given to understand that there would be a “temporary inconvenience” in our normal lives, but eventually things would not only get better but would make India a totally corruption-free nation – the envy of the entire world!
When the “temporary inconvenience” began to look as if the total disruption of our normal way of life would be a long and arduous struggle, Modi informed us that he was fighting international terrorism by cutting off the supply of “black money” to the terrorists. His Defence Minister, who, by the way, trained as a metallurgist – and not as an economist – claimed that Mumbai’s crime rate had been halved as a direct result of the demonetisation drive. We began to wonder whether if the crime rate and the level of terrorism could be so drastically reduced simply by the process of demonetisation of high denomination currency notes, what was the need of maintaining such a large defence force and such a cumbersome police force to maintain law and order?
When the disruption in our normal way of life became intolerable because we could not draw our own money from our own savings bank accounts without showing proofs of identity and proving that our savings were all legitimate, our Finance Minister informed us that the entire demonetisation drive was really intended to push India into a cashless economy. By one leap forward, every Indian citizen would be able to transact his or her business without exchanging any money. When the Defence Minister bought his packet of cigarettes or when he bought his pao bhaji at the roadside shop, he would be able to pay with his credit card. We were all advised to do likewise. No more cash transactions; just non-cash payments. It did not occur to our Prime Minister and our Finance Minister that over 70 per cent of Indians do not have a bank account, and that they did not even know what a cashless transaction meant. Without cash to pay their labourers, small and medium-sized businessmen had to allow their workers to starve, because they lived on the wages they earned day-to-day by hard work. Small and marginal farmers could not buy seeds and fertilizers because they had no access to currency notes. However many politicians and businessmen could afford to spend Rs. 500 crore on the weddings of their daughters, and some even stashed currency notes, including the newly printed Rs.2000 notes, inside their houses and bathrooms.
A “Cashless economy” sounds very sophisticated and very esoteric but there appears to be something very odd about a government which is trying feverishly to print currency notes of Rs. 2000, 500, 100, and 50 so that banks and ATMs can dispense these notes to their customers. There seems to be some sort of contradiction involved in a system in which a cashless economy is being promoted by infusing even more cash into the system. The Chief Minister of Goa, in his uniquely naive way declared that a cashless economy does not mean a cashless economy. Out of the mouths of babes and ignoramuses! Finally the Prime Minister and his Finance Minister are forced to acknowledge that their emperor has no clothes. It took an inane observation of an inept Chief Minister to declare that there is no such thing as a cashless economy.
If, in fact, India is plunging into a cashless economy, this will mean that India will also become a bank-less society. The official propaganda of the Modi government tells us that our smart phones are now our personal bank branches and our personal ATMs. All we need to do is to press the right buttons and all our payments will be made. Where, then, is the need for any bank to exist? We will soon be the first nation in the world to operate an economy without the existence of any banks – whether public sector or private sector. Welcome to the Brave New World of a cashless economy!
But what about the corruption which, we were told, was the real reason behind the demonetisation exercise? Well, the Finance Minister, who pretends to be an economist, has been outsmarted by the corrupt politicians and businessmen who know that corruption does not need cash to survive. Since corruption is also a cashless enterprise, these [un]worthies have realigned their business practices to operate within the new parameters set up by the Modi government. They will continue to operate as usual, in fact, to prosper, while the poor and the middle-class citizens will continue to stand in serpentine queues to get a small portion of their own money from their own savings accounts after proving that the account in fact belongs to them, and that the amounts saved are all from legitimate sources.
Finally, a word about the cashless economy and the patriotic spirit. Modi and his ilk have cleverly devised a propaganda blitzkrieg which equates a traditional economy with an unpatriotic spirit. If you are against the new cashless economy, you are, ipso facto, unpatriotic. If you say anything against the new economy, you are supporting corruption and anti-nationalism. Patriotism has taken on the saffron colour. Patriotism has no other colour.(Published on 19th December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 51)#