Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a bad analogy comparing the cash drought prevailing in India now after the midnight ban of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes to the chaos prevailed in Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. "People stood in line for four hours, six hours but accepted the decision in national interest the way people of Japan tackled the aftermath of the 2011 disaster," Modi said speaking to an Indian gathering at Kobe, Japan.
The chaos that follows a natural disaster and the willpower of a society to withstand the difficult days is one thing while the chaos and disruption of normal life in a society post a “well-thought-out decision” planned months in advance by the government is another. The fact is that the Modi government has miserably failed to design the implementation in the days after the demonitisation announcement, though no one is questioning the intention of the very exercise. Every honest citizen wants his country to be free of the evil of fake currencies and black money. But while doing so, the government should have foreseen what is going to happen in the hours and days after the announcement.
Obviously, the mob psychology works in full swing on such occasions. And that psychology would drive the common man into a panic mode, telling him to run fast to the nearest bank branches and ATMs to withdraw maximum possible amount permissible (as of now Rs 2,000 per day), even if he doesn’t need that amount. He would need to pay to the vegetable vendor, milkman, cablewallah, newspaperwallah, and cabby, a majority of whom still live in the cash economy, for whom PoS terminals, plastic money, PayTm are all still fancy words. While in metros like Mumbai and Delhi, people still have the possibility to use plastic money to meet most of the daily needs, in the semi-urban areas and villages, life will turn hell when ATMs dry out of money in few hours, daily labourers are denied wages because their employer doesn't have cash and kirana wallah frowns when asks for credit yet another day.
Modi should remember that the people standing in long queues certainly don’t have the mindset of a soldier fighting a national cause but only have curse words for the government for turning their lives into a nightmare
Modi must have acknowledged this state of affairs, the failure of the government on execution front and promised to resolve the issue as early as possible. Instead, he warned about further measures post 30 December, when the deadline to exchange old Rs 500, Rs 1,000 currency notes expire. This will only add to the panic since people would start speculating that what the next blow is going to be. Already, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has hinted that it might take at least three weeks before normalcy sets in. Three weeks is a long time for the cash shortage to continue. By then, the problem can go totally out of hand for the government.
Where did the government go wrong?
In the months prior to announcing the currency ban, the government should have taken the following steps:
One, the government should have printed sufficient number of lower denomination notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 in the government mints, instead of pushing the fancy not-so-useful Rs 2,000 notes into the market. The Rs 2,000 note is a hard nut for the public and not more than a showcase item, for now. You can boast of having one, but if you walk into the town with this, there won’t be too many takers since there is very little cash in the system to offer change. The guy who gave the wonderful idea to the government of introducing the Rs 2,000 notes first against the ban of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes should be sacked.
The fact is that even though the government claims it has been planning the move for last six months, the new Rs 2,000 notes have been printed only in the last two months — the precise reason why these notes carry new RBI governor, Urjit Patel’s signature
Secondly, it should have equipped the ATM network to deliver the new currency notes. As of now, ATMs aren’t equipped to deliver anything other than the Rs 100 notes. To equip the machine to accommodate the new series of notes will take a long time — a process which will further delay the functioning of ATMs. Already there are bigger queues than one typically sees in front of beverage shops. How on earth government plans to rewire the ATM network within such a short time? The government should have asked the banks to rework the machines well in advance while keeping the secrecy of the move.
Third, the government should have thought of mechanisms to make the process seamless by providing additional facilities for note withdrawal, other than ATMs and bank branches. It could have set up currency kiosks adjacent to bank branches for, say initial 10 days, rather than directing the entire crowd to the ATMs and bank branches.
To sum up, the Modi-government absolutely failed to think ahead. It, perhaps, thought of an ideal situation where people of all stature laud the government for the government and put their personal miseries behind the larger cause of patriotism. But, the golden rule of – don’t preach the scriptures to someone who is hungry – was forgotten.
Presently, the situation is not in control of the government. The long queues before ATMs and bank branches can soon take the shape of street protests against the government. Opposition parties can soon taste blood and jump into the streets too. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has already entered the ring, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has already joined the ATM queues. It is not long before regional satraps smell an opportunity. The good intention behind the currency ban and the long-term benefits it will bring to the economy will then be forgotten and Modi will run the risk a strong the anti-incumbency wave, if the cash drought continues and remedial measures are not brought into place. Better watch out for a bigger storm than the 2011 Japan earthquake Narendra Modi.