Follow Us:
Saturday, May 28, 2022

Electing a new people

Political battle over demonetisation will reveal if the Indian citizen has changed.

Written by Aakash Joshi |
December 3, 2016 12:00:48 am
demonetisation, demonetisation politics, narendra modi, congress, currency ban, currency circulation, amartya sen, fake 2000 notes, new note, terrorist with new notes, black money, black money fight, corruption, indian express opinion, india news What is unique about the demonetisation drive is that it has occurred in a functioning democracy, brought about by a government which expresses the will of the people.

The abrupt extraction of a bulk of the currency in circulation by the Narendra Modi government is not a utilitarian project. Most economists of repute — including Amartya Sen (IE, November 26) and Kaushik Basu (The New York Times, November 27) — not directly employed by the government of India have said that removing over 85 per cent of cash from a reasonably robust economy isn’t great policy. The other objective of the government was to end funding to terrorist and militant groups. A cursory glance at headlines from Kashmir — from frequent attacks to stories of militants being caught with bundles of the new Rs 2,000 notes — will illustrate that the goal remains distant.

As people stand in queues that have already become cliché, there are stories of anger and frustration and tragedy. The anger, of course, can be understood — overnight, people were thrown into a crisis which was not of their own making. But it also seems from reports from the ground, there are a large number of people who support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “fight against black money”. What is it that makes people support the move? There are the simple answers: A sense of schadenfreude among the poor and middle classes at the invisible rich weeping over their piles of now useless black money. Or that they genuinely believe, as an act of prophetic self-interest, that this move will benefit them and that the jumla-esque Rs 15 lakh will come into every account now that the kala dhan is being whitened and the coffers of the state are filling up.

These explanations rely on the incomplete and perhaps even obsolete understanding, ignoring a fundamental change that has been in the making since the 2014 general election. For this government, its own definitive majority — a first for the BJP — is a millennial moment. It ended the bara sau saal ki ghulami that presumably included everyone from Akbar to Nehru to Manmohan Singh. It is the culmination of a project that began with the RSS in 1925. The RSS has always described itself as a “cultural organisation”— political power is the means to an ideological end. This is most visible in its interest in the education system and syllabus. The human resources and culture ministry, after all, holds the key to changing thought and society.

It is in the pursuit of that new society, which began with the inauguration of the current government, that demonetisation has taken place — not for some rational, economic end. The best illustration of the government’s sense of purpose comes from an article by Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, M. Venkaiah Naidu (‘The new cultural revolution’ IE, November 29).

Best of Express Premium
What makes KuCoin P2P Trading Platform a Good Choice To Buy Crypto?Premium
Airtel Demonstrates Immersive Video Entertainment On 5G; Recreates Kapi...Premium
Is It A Good Idea To Keep One Account For All Your Financial Transactions?Premium
Touching The Sky : SIMS, Pune Alumni On A Path To Make A DifferencePremium

Like Mao Zedong’s original, this “new cultural revolution”, led by demonetisation, is meant to “usher in a behavioural change at levels of society” where citizens will do everything from “attending office on time” to bringing about “cleanliness of thought and action”. It is this idea of creating a new kind of citizen to fit a new society that is an ideological one: The people must change and sacrifice for an utopia propagated by the state in its moral certainty. Their interests as individuals do not matter. The act of standing in line, of suffering hardships for a deferred idea of justice, is not the response to a democratic demand, but rather, a moral test for the people of India. If you do not support the move, you are against the order that has been set up to bring about a better world or venal or quite simply, “anti-national”.

This notion is neither new nor complicated. However, in democracies, it is rarely employed in times of peace and can be externalised during times of war.

What is unique about the demonetisation drive is that it has occurred in a functioning democracy, brought about by a government which expresses the will of the people. And it is here that the danger lies. What has been attacked through demonetisation, or at least its implementation, is not a vague idea of diversity or even secularism but our most basic of possessions — money and time. The expectactions of the people from their representatives — if they do indeed stand by the government as it claims — are no longer what it used to be. Their suffering for the “nation”, which is the only tangible outcome of the exercise so far, has become a virtue and provides a sense of purpose and, perhaps, even unity. Ideas of safety, prosperity and peace are not something to be gained rationally in the immediate term, but in a future which may not come. That is what is truly at test in the political battle over demonetisation — whether or not the 2014 general election represented a fundamental ideological change not just in the orientation of the government of India, but in its people. If that is the case, the government will not need a “new cultural revolution” to change the Indian people and the idea of India. It has already succeeded.

Latest Comment
View All Comments
Post Comment
Read Comments

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App.

  • Newsguard
  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
  • Newsguard

Featured Stories

Tanuja says film industry now more 'corporate' instead of being a family:...
Shah Rukh Khan reveals wife Gauri Khan's rules inside their home Mannat: ...
Delivery boy’s inspirational story of becoming software engineer goes viral
Sharmila Tagore's Safar has a woman suffering because the men in her life...
Indian film All That Breathes wins top documentary award at Cannes 2022