The joke said it all, it seemed: “At the stroke of the midnight, as the world sleeps, the corrupt in India wake up to bankruptcy.” It appeared to encapsulate in so few words so much of the motivation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in demonetising the big denomination currency notes. In one fell swoop, he also pulled out of circulation many thousand crores that have been pumped into the economy from across the international border in the west. But then cautious consternation struck home.
How about tomorrow? How will households buy their groceries? How will the vegetable vendor buy their supplies to sell to those who want it delivered at their doorstep? Where is the infrastructure to replace the now ubiquitous Rs 500 notes – considering the eroded value of the rupee due to inflation- that was earlier less seen. Yet, better sense told us that this was only a problem for a week or a fortnight. The small guy will be troubled only for a few days. On the other hand, the modernisation of the monetary system that this demonetisation can bring in – by making plastic money or a cellphone application-based payment procedure easy – will save the small guy from having to pay rangdari tax, let’s say, both to the police and the local goons.
In the long term, though we will all be dead, to paraphrase JM Keynes, still this modernising influence will get the GST kick in well and faster, and the collection will also be higher. That should, in turn, expand the welfare rupee. All those are the pluses. In fact, today’s Delhi roads were a testimony to a policy that is making Narendra Modi of a land-grabbing Gujarat government seem "socialist," for missing were Mercedes Benz or he BMWs or the Porsches of even the Audi SUVs (these, of course, are available in the typically middle-class EMI system).
So as the crass preening of the rich and wealthy (though no one really knows how in Delhi that has few industries or other commercial ventures create so much wealth!) appeared missing, the city felt like home. As my mother tells me, we journalists can’t do the good over evil. Even this move has its bad side: a lot of the money to be spent in the Legislative Assembly polls next year will be missing as the non-BJP parties were taken by surprise even as they readying their stash for UP, Uttarakhand and all the other states.
In fact, if we learn to believe our government even Amit Shah could have been taken by surprise by the move his loving mentor had made. So will the next few polls see the evil of money powerless, concurrently the muscle power too? Doubtful. For tomorrow is another day for MK Gandhi, to re-emerge on the one face of the new Rs 500 note and even better, new Rs 2000 notes. If I were Narendra Modi, I would have waited for a month or so to have the Adanis and Ambanis stew in their juices a little longer, before throwing them their lifeline. Their names are only exemplary and in no way restricted. But a vegetable vendor probably has some cash to pick up his stock tomorrow. Otherwise, he and we are in trouble.