We are so averse to the Chinese and yet we just cannot quite do without Chinese merchandise. Not only this, the idea of demonetization, which has captivated the Indian imagination, has a Chinese flavour to it. It reminds one of Charles Lamb’s stories wherein the young Chinese burnt down his house (accidentally) to roast a pig. Demonetization brought the economic activities of the nation to a standstill; it stopped the lives of our countrymen in their tracks. But if the bang of demonetization had to end up in the whimper of 49.9% tax on undeclared income, the nation should have been spared the trauma of surgical intervention. The hoarders of black money had already promised to pay 45%; the government could have come up with another VDIS demanding 50%. It could have then wheedled for some more and then some more, because there seems to be no other way, as it appears in hindsight. Or was it a grave miscalculation of the strength of the enemy? Along with a major failure of organization, was it a failure of political imagination as well?
It is useful to continue with the medical- military metaphor because there are pertinent lessons to be learnt here. The showing in our battle with the enemy in black has been less than underwhelming; it should be borne in mind, should it ever come to an engagement with the other enemy in olive green and khaki camouflage. After this capitulation, this abject surrender before the enemy, the ranting of our defence minister takes on an even more portentous and ominous hue. If our war aims are to be whittled down during the conduct of the war, like it has been done today, in the real war we will end up surrendering what we already hold rather than recover what we are sworn to recover.
Along with the great inconvenience it caused to the poor and the economically vulnerable, it ruptured the domestic safety net, secretly erected by frugal housewives out of their savings, beyond the prying eyes of husband .This money was whiter- than- white, because it bore the marks of selflessness and sacrifice of many years . Unbeknown to their husbands, therefore, unbeknown to the state also, the kitty of the last resort has also come to light. The amount of money thus stigmatized has surprised not only governments but husbands as well, because the government outlawed all cash holdings indiscriminately, irrespective of their origin. House wives with honest cash savings become subject to double taxation. We chose to bear the pain with grace and equanimity as our share of the burden. And the poor, the worst victims of institutionalized deception by the political class were absolutely stoic; suffering yet silent.
But as it appears now the whole nation was thrown into a ferment for nothing. This demonetization scheme has turned out to be a huge moral launderette for the illegal cash hoarders (their identities are bound to be kept secret!), not to mention a benign scheme for money laundering. A fight that looked like a crusade for moral rearmament has ended up by blurring the moral categories themselves. The corrupt hoarder and the honest accumulator of modest sums of money are made to stand on the same footing. If illicit accumulation of wealth was to be repeatedly condoned for a certain fee, (this is the fourth amnesty scheme since independence, two in a row in course of a few months, which is a record anywhere) then this regime should be extended to the crimes of blood and gore as well. The corrupt rich must be accommodated, in every way; we owe it to them.
Was the pressure of the political class too much to handle? Did it threaten to signal the end of electoral politics as such, because it threatened to deprive it of its life blood – black money? Was the pressure from within, because ruling party is known to draw its sustenance from groups of people who habitually deal in cash rather than financial instruments that eroded the resolve? Was it simply a failure of nerves? We will never know.
How sad I have to conclude all my musings these days with the refrain: Hope is the enemy.
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