Demonetisation: Rahul Gandhi is hitting the right notes by questioning its motive

Is Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi beginning to make sense? On the demonetisation issue, yes.

On Tuesday, at a press conference called by Opposition parties, Gandhi, flanked by TMC leader Mamta Banerjee, raised an important point: Prime Minister Narendra Modi should tell us what is the real motive behind the note ban measure, and what he will do for those most affected by it?

This is a pertinent question that the Modi government needs to answer, since they have changed the thrust of the demonetisation narrative smartly: From the earlier objectives of black money hunt and fake currency crackdown, it's now being projected as a historic opportunity for Indians to shift to a cashless economy.

 Demonetisation: Rahul Gandhi is hitting the right notes by questioning its motive

Rahul Gandhi. Reuters

The second part of Gandhi’s question — what the government intends to do to compensate the people who are affected by the cash crunch — is even more important. Particularly so given that the government has not committed a date by when the cash crunch will end and multiple layers of economy are feeling the heat.

The only date (30 December) mentioned by Modi is already a flop; there are only three days to go, and there is no big change visible on the cash situation, although compared to the early days of demonetisation, things have improved. It is impossible to end the pain in the next three days, even if the government floods the system with Rs 2,000 notes.

But blindly criticising demonetisation and calling it a scam may prove to be a self-destructing strategy for Gandhi and his political allies. That the note ban move was well-intentioned is beyond doubt. Even Modi's harshest critics do not question the motives behind the move. Over a period of time, if the taxman does his job well, it may help improve the tax base and make way for more financial reforms.

When more people join the tax net, and coupled with the entry of a new indirect tax regime — the goods and services tax (GST)— the economy will be ready to enter the next lap of growth. The taxmen will have access to more sources to tap into. And if a good portion of the cash-dominated high-value financial transactions can turn digital, that will mean a further boost to economy. Demonetisation is directionally a good move, but implemented pathetically.

For Gandhi, it was a Modi-given opportunity to prove he has become a mature politician, no longer the impulsive leader that he was for the most part of his decade-long political career. There hasn't been an issue like demonetisation since May 2014, which has impacted the lives of 125 crore Indians in some or the other way. Even supporters of demonetisation, who praised its noble intentions, have now begun to question its flawed implementation, after witnessing a prolonged cash crunch that is likely to last till March 2017.

The economic impact will unfold in the days ahead. In the short-term, however, most segments of economy have been hit badly. This is where Gandhi, as a prominent face in the Opposition, should prove his mettle and ask the right questions at the right time, instead of resorting to high-drama politics.

In an earlier column, we had pointed out the six questions Gandhi should ask to constructively engage with the government on the demonetisation issue, instead of engaging in high drama and political tricks. On Tuesday, he asked the first. He should get on with the rest.

Here they are:
a) If the objective is still to recover black money and kill fake currency, how much unaccounted assets have been recovered so far by the taxmen?
b) What is the total quantifiable cost of implementing demonetisation to the exchequer?
c) When will the cash crunch end?
d) Did the government actually have a plan to re-monetise the economy after "several months of preparation"? If yes, why was the common man subjected to such torture for a long time?
e) Did the Modi government have a stated policy document to effect the change into a cashless society, or did it suddenly pop up on the go? Shouldn't the shift to cashless economy have happened in a more gradual manner rather than pushing it down the throats of people, especially given that there is not enough internet penetration, financial literacy, or laws in the country required for a massive transition?

Here you go, Mr Gandhi.

Updated Date: Dec 27, 2016 19:17:37 IST