Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Currency Crackdown: Why I Feel Good About It

First published on Stance.

There are a few times when the collective hypocrisy of the so-called left and self-proclaimed “secular” parties in India comes out in full play. The recent move by the Reserve Bank of India to demonetize 500- and 1,000-rupee notes was one such moment.

Sure, the move has led to chaos and confusion and could’ve been done with better planning, but as an apolitical Indian I am somewhat appalled by their overreaction.

We are getting conflicting reports in the media (depending on their political leanings) regarding the ground situation. While a number of reports state that the people really don’t mind the inconvenience because they feel it’s for the greater good, there are others that say people are fed-up and could revolt.

As a non-resident Indian who is insulated from the happenings back home, I am not surprised with the contradictory reports I read and see on TV. I read all newspapers/magazines and watch all TV channels, even though I know their political leanings and agenda, but then am confident that I can form an informed opinion.

I can clearly see the mainstream Indian media has largely been partial toward the Gandhi dynasty, left and pseudo-secular parties, while over-exaggerating the sins and omissions of the present ruling party. The Bharatiya Janata Party has many faults, and it is true that fringe elements are gaining ground, but what is more evident is the way the media spins stories.

It rankles the celebrity journalists that they’ve lost their power to shape public opinion and people have by and large seen through their manipulation, with information (and misinformation) widely available on the internet and social media.

This wasn’t the case during my formative years in Kerala during the eighties and later as an active journalist in Chennai and New Delhi, when social media was non-existent and the press raised valid criticism without bias.

We shifted to Kerala in 1980, when my father was appointed professor at the Center for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram. I’ve spent my school and college days in the city and was always surrounded by CPI (M) sympathizers (including my father). CDS is, and always has been, a left bastion and I got a close look at how the myopic left “intellectuals” operate.

Growing up, I remember the strikes and bandhs at the drop of a hat, dismal infrastructure, rampant corruption and nepotism in Kerala. Along with the frequent shouts of “inquilaab zindabad.”

The left parties in Kerala have only been shouting about revolution, but never doing it when they are in power. For instance, they were dead against railway computerization in the mid-eighties (a revolution that helped common people), and as a traveler I used to face a harrowing time to book tickets. Imagine if they had succeeded in stalling it.

I left Thiruvananthapuram in 1995 and the country in 2004.

The demonetization exercise brings out the hypocrisy of opposition politicians, particularly the left, who are very good at raising slogans but equally bad at governance. As an NRI, who prefers to maintain his citizenship despite living in South Korea for 12 years and having a Korean wife, I can objectively see the pros and cons of the move.

Of course, this won’t abolish the parallel economy indefinitely, as corrupt people will devise new ingenious ways. We are already seeing it, with politicians in Maharashtra channeling their black money into co-operatives they control, and lawmakers in Karnataka giving out interest-free loans to the gullible poor (remember, these politicians belong to the so-called liberal parties). But, surely it’s a big blow to endemic corruption in India which will have a long-lasting impact, and a start has been made.

While the opposition is calling it “India’s financial chaos and anarchy,” vowing “united action,” and mocking Narendra Modi’s appeal to give him 50 days to fix the problems and ease their hardship, the general public seems willing to face the inconvenience and give him time.

I just spoke to my 76-year-old father (a left-wing supporter) who lives in Hyderabad. He didn’t mind waiting in the bank for two hours to exchanges some notes. He jokingly said that he was glad he hadn’t withdrawn any money for real estate transactions since everyone demands cash.

That’s surely one sector that will take a big hit in the short term, and the move will drive down prices to calm the overheated market. It’s also quite obvious that the hawala market and funding for terrorists (including some who blindly follow a tyrant who murdered millions in China) will be dealt a heavy blow -- although some who clearly have their sympathies elsewhere question the impact.

Then there are politicians alleging that BJP got wind of the plans in advance and managed to covert its black money to white. Such suspicion may be justified, but by raising it the bitter politicians expose themselves as being sore that they didn’t have the opportunity to do so. Just look at the parties who are vocal: most of them are known to depend on cash hoardings for their party activities.

The usual argument to oppose any government move is that it will affect the poorest of the poor in India. That argument itself is laughable in this case.

The people who will be affected the most are the rich and middle class, and they are all welcoming the move. Can you imagine casual laborers hoarding 500- and 1,000-rupee notes? They live a hand-to-mouth existence which unfortunately has remained the same for the past 70 years despite grand slogans of “garibi hatao”.

As for the people who are facing difficulty because they don’t have a bank account, this is the best opportunity to open one now. This is a masterstroke that will increase financial inclusion and boost the white economy, while giving the benefits of banking to the poor.

There are critics saying many poor people who don’t have identity proof cannot open a bank account. Well, if they don’t have identity proof they also don’t have cash hoardings. Even a BPL ration card is identity proof, as also an election voting card. Whom are they trying to fool by shedding crocodile tears?

Some are mentioning the problems faced by small traders who mostly deal in cash. That is true, most of the small traders don’t keep accounts of their transactions, but they also avoid paying taxes by doing so. Moreover, this has always been the strongest voting constituency of the BJP in North India. By hurting them (and losing their support) Modi has demonstrated that he isn’t interested in vote accounts and is looking at the larger picture.

Every honest and law-abiding citizen understands that demonetization will result in short-term inconvenience, but is upbeat about the bold move to crack down on black money. It’s only the political parties who now have to burn their unaccounted cash are trying to cover their tracks.

Apolitical supporters of any decision taken by the present government are immediately ridiculed as “bhakts” by the liberal crowd. By doing so, they try to intimidate anyone who questions them, in effect showing their own intolerance levels.

It’s important to look at the larger picture and call out the hypocrites who have swindled the honest Indian for decades.