Nasbandi and notebandi do not come similarly off the tongue but they go beyond mere alliteration. If nasbandi (vasectomy) done forcibly and indiscriminately on adult males especially in the rural hinterlands of India on the back of the Emergency the Indira Gandhi government had declared in 1975 had infuriated the masses to the point of throwing out her government in the hustings in 1977, notebandi has produced just a synthetic anger among the commentariat and the political opponents of Prime Minister Narender Modi.
The most virulent reminder of suspension of democracy and assumption of dictatorship in 1975 by the then prime minister late Indira Gandhi still is nasbandi. Indeed, the Congress party is unable to exorcise twin ghosts it had unleashed---1975 Emergency and the 1984 pogrom carried out on the Sikh community.
Smarting under the ignominy of an electoral rout in 2014 inflicted by Narendra Modi, the Congress has been trying to find an issue to discredit him. Rafale defence deal, intolerance of minorities and dalits and what-have-you. And of course demonetisation. Demonetisation of high-value currency notes of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 on 8 November 2016 by the Modi government indeed was a botched attempt, with less than adequate preparations and numerous escape route for crooks but it was not born of a sinister intent like nasbandi, the metaphor for the 1975 Emergency. Yet, the Congress Party and its President Rahul Gandhi are going about the world making shrill noises attributing malice to the noble intent underpinning demonetisation.
Demonetisation was announced to a stunned nation to unearth black money in the main, with the subsidiary objectives being ending counterfeit currency notes and choking finances of terrorist organisations in the country. The Congress, however, says the move was to take away money from the poor and fill the coffers of some 15 industrialists!
Any major decision, especially cataclysmic ones have to be tested on the touchstone of people’s support. The nation roundly rejected Indira Gandhi’s Emergency incensed more by nasbandi -- its intrusive and disastrous offshoot. It is another matter that it restored Indira Gandhi to the prime ministerial chair very quickly unable to tolerate the infighting among the new rulers who couldn’t overcome their ideological differences. But people, by and large, have taken a tolerant view of notebandi though it did throw their lives pell-mell during the three months its crippling impact lasted. After all when 86 percent of the currency supply is sucked out by rendering it non-legal tender, a cash economy like India does sputter in the absence of quick replacement of the old currencies.
The electorate, however, believes that the intent was noble---unearthing black money of moneybags---though the repercussions were disruptive. It thought nothing of notebandi in UP elections where Modi’s BJP won a landslide. In fact, elsewhere too, the BJP won though not on the scale of the UP victory.
Modi’s detractors thought that notebandi was Modi’s nasbandi moment. But the masses have magnanimously taken the inconveniences they were doubtless subjected to in their stride, leaving only the commentariat and political opponents to sulk and fume. Mercifully for Modi, the Goods and Services tax (GST) regime - another paradigm-changing economic move hot on the heels of demonetisation, succeeded in mainstreaming the economy with huge amounts of money. Around 99.3 percent of the Rs 16 lakh crore demonetised money found its way back into the banking system and resurfaced in the form of businesses in the mainstream economy away from the subterranean economy they were hitherto.
The enormous surge in direct and indirect taxes collections in the wake of GST has fortuitously justified demonetisation as well. And this exactly is the line taken by the Finance Minister Jaitley and the officials.
Yet, the government has to speed up its investigation into the genuineness of about 18 lakh accounts that Jaitley says are suspected to be harboring illicit funds deposited during the demonetisation days when the deposit window was open. It cannot be work-in-progress forever.
The Modi government is acknowledged to be honest by a vast section of the electorate but it has to live down the dubious reputation of being a botcher in perpetuity--- Mallya allowed to run away, Nirav Modi allowed to run away and demonetisation done without adequate preparations with printing of new currency and their quick replenishment into the ATM machines lagging behind considerably besides allowing enormous elbow room to crooks to launder their black money albeit for a short period in petrol bunks the Indian landscape is dotted with and friendly hospitals.
(The author is a senior columnist and tweets @smurlidharan)
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Updated Date: Aug 31, 2018 12:42:51 IST