The demonetisation move comes at a time of low industrial output, a slump in the job market, acute problems in the realty sector, manufacturing activities at an all time low, credit offtake from banks at its lowest in 20 years, and severe distress in the agriculture sector. The hardships suffered by millions of Indians in the past two weeks has no parallel. The economic slowdown which the country will witness in years to come as a result of this ill-advised step taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also have no parallel.
Modi’s colleagues in his government and the party are fearful about opening their mouths but are questioning his decision in hushed tones. There are many sensible leaders in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose murmurs about the possible impact of the sudden loss of citizen’s trust in the banking system are audible now. Most of them have realised that there are dangerous signals for a severe economic collapse and failing to deal with a situation that has been unnecessarily imposed at a wrong time and in haste is going to damage the BJP's chances across the country.
The possible backlash has compelled the Prime Minister to tell his colleagues not be defensive. He wants to change the discourse by focusing on national security and has told his MPs to attack the opposition for not supporting the fight against black money. Modi has told his colleagues to reach out to their constituencies and let the people know that that they are partners in building the nation and the harassment they are facing is temporary.
But the initial aggression of BJP workers who were made to stand in queues before the banks and argue with the complaining people has drastically gone down in the second week because they now find fewer takers for their rhetoric. RSS is so worried about the ground situation that its leadership has not uttered a word favouring Modi’s decision. Moreover, several affiliate outfits of RSS have raised their voice against implementing demonetisation without required preparations.
There are reports that in the meeting of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) held in New Delhi on November 14, there were no dearth of members who were so perturbed that they almost blamed the Prime Minister for his obsession with self-glorification. The mood in BJP is getting gloomier with each passing day, and the senior leaders are not hesitating, though in strict confidence, in expressing their apprehension that the party will have to pay dearly for months to come.
Despite the fact that ordinary people are fed up and there exists a serious difference of opinions within BJP, what surprises me is the behaviour of opposition parties. Usually, an ill-conceived and poorly managed move of any government such as this would have inspired the opposition parties to get unified. But that is not the case. There is a strong feeling among the masses that mainstream parties are needed to play their roles with greater intensity. Congress is fighting on the floor of the Parliament. Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal have taken to the streets. Akhilesh Yadav is trying his bit. Mayawati has shown her intentions to oppose government's decision strongly. Lalu Prasad Yadav has also made it clear that his cadre will not tolerate any spin by the BJP. Left parties are also against this move. But unless they come together to form a coherent forum, their struggle will not yield the required results.
The behaviour of Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, and few others is also somewhat surprising. If they prefer to keep their lips tight, they must have prepared to face the political consequences in future. In an environment where from the commoners in bank queues to Chief Justice of India are destined to suffer attacks on their integrity if they try to express any apprehension, it is understandable why some are silent. If you say you have a right on your legitimate money, your nationalism is questioned. If you express your fear that there could be a riot like situation because of long queues of people to get their money, you face the drone attacks by questioning about the queues before the courts. But there are no answers for the core issues such as why must the prime minister render 87 percent of his country’s currency invalid only to eradicate few crores of fake notes.
The big fish who evade taxes have enough cushion, techniques, and patronage to absorb the shock of Narendra Modi’s move. They do not hoard their money in trunks at their homes. They have illicit offshore accounts, properties like luxury hotels abroad and mineral blocks from Indonesia to Africa. Their money is invested in airlines, the entertainment industry, and share markets. Whatever Modi is today, he is a product of the political-economic system prevailing for decades. Therefore, he is well aware that handful of biggies control the black lanes of India’s economy and not the millions of workers, small traders, marginal farmers, and vendors. Then why initiate the move of demonetising, and that too with such inadequate preparations? He should know that nothing is a more fatal than the curse of millions of people whom he has made to stand in queues with tears in their eyes and pain in their hearts.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. Views expressed are strictly personal.)