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Black money and the black sheep

By Prem Chandran Here now was a major national crisis -- of the financial system going haywire essentially and mostly .....




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11-25-2016
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Thumbs up Black money and the black sheep


By Prem Chandran

Here now was a major national crisis -- of the financial system going haywire essentially and mostly in terms of money circulation hurdles caused by the sudden demonitisation of high-value currency notes. Here was a time when the Prime Minister thought secrecy was of essence to the success of the big step forward. A single SMS from one mobile phone to another or a whatsapp click would have had the whole world getting wind of it in a matter of a few seconds. Such are the times we are in, in the age of the Internet. That did not happen, and grant the PM the credit for this. The secrecy helped, and as a result, a whole lot of problems arose too. Naturally, it was time to have patience, tons of it, if only to facilitate the success of an eminent national endeavour. But, it is educative to take a look at how India’s political class, some in the media, and even the banking sector have responded to the exceptionally huge endeavour and sensitive situation.

In the minimum, one expected of banks to extend their working hours to the maximum extent. A national crisis of such a high proportion demanded of a more open approach by banks in particular. But, the banking staff mostly strolled in at the normal working hour, in most (if not all) cities, by when there already were huge queues forming. In city after city, and elsewhere too, people started forming in queues from eight in the morning and they were allowed in after 10am. That there was a shortage of currency formed only one big part of the financial sector crisis. People needed banks for more of transactions, and it would not suffice to say there were no instructions to the staff to go the whole hog out. Inertia is part of Indians’ general character. The tendency is to take things easy. But, these are times when one should rather be prepared to voluntarily go the whole hog out. To an extent, the banking staff did an exceptionally good job; but they could have done much more.

Now, coming to the crux of the issue, there is general consensus on two aspects in relation to the demonetisation step announced out of the blue by Prime Minister Modi on November 8. One, that it would to an extent help control the black money menace as also check terror funding; and two, that there was not enough of planning that went into a governmental measure of such mammoth impact on the nation; the emphasis on secrecy having led to this situation. There are those who keep a blind eye on both these aspects, and they are mainly some of the opposition parties, not all of them of course, and it is not difficult to see how they could not have responded in a different manner.

Fight against black money is also a fight against corruption of the systems as much as a fight against corrupt individuals. These men ruled the roost till the ther day. Now, there is a sense of fear, that Modi would catch them sooner or later. This here is one major step, but by no means the only step. PM has already said the next move is on benami property. We, the ordinary people in general, and anti-corruption activists in particular, are enthused at this turn of events. Talk to the people in the street, you know. Opinion surveys one after another have made this very clear. Herein lies the rub. If this is a popular measure, who benefits out of this, and who loses the game? If Modi scores a few points, it could not but be at the cost of his rivals, namely the political parties and leaders, India's most corrupt creed, who are now pitted against him. The set of assembly and Lok Sabha by-elections in several states this week amply demonstrated, if further proof is needed, as to how the people in general looked at the demonetisation drive, even as this measure has cost them a lot of trouble in their daily lives. Yet, they are willing to patiently stand in the queues and would not revolt. Here is a social cause involved, and there is enough of nationalistic spirit involved in each of us to bear with a difficult situation for a while, of course. This is the strength of this nation today, and a strong signal to Prime Minister Modi that he could feel free to herald wholesale reforms in every walk of life, step by step. Modi, we trust, has his ear to the ground.

At the same time, look at the list of those who have shown a proclivity to fish in troubled waters or to play villain. Topping that list, as is by now clear to all, is West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, but she is by no means the most mischievous of the lot. She has her limits, which limits itself mostly to West Bengal and does not stretch beyond its borders, and this is so even in Bengali-dominated Tripura, as the latest poll results too have proven. Look rather at the scenario when attempts were made from unexpected quarters to pull the rug from under the Prime Minister’s feet at a time when he is seen to be hectoring a cause very dear to the nation’s heart – of taking on the corrupt and the anti-national elements; stopping them in their tracks. A largely circulated southern newspaper likely played into the hands of some politicians in Delhi, to come up with a “major expose” – which is that, in 2011 and thereafter (corrected), some papers seized in an enforcement/CBI raid had a mention that then Gujarat chief minister had been paid a few crores by two business entities in the country. The report, that the newspaper smartly flashed first on its online edition to build up the mood, and then brought on to its front page, referred to a demand made by Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan before a governmental agency, seeking a probe into the matter.

The release of this report by the newspaper was followed up swiftly by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal targeting the Prime Minister. All right, if Modi had taken money from business houses beyond what is normal for a political leader in times of elections and the like, by way of a contribution to the party, then let him face the axe. We are not here to defend even a Modi or a Kejriwal, two leaders who have a fair name otherwise. But, question is, why coming up with an expose at this crucial juncture, five years after 2011, if it is not your way of putting a spoke into the demonetisation wheel, playing the villain, and scuttling a major national offensive against corruption that had just begun?

Prashat Bhushan had at one time been an activist of the anti-corruption movement in this country, and he's one who fights a whole lot of public interest litigations. But, it is also worth the while to ponder as to why he is still not in the reckoning. There were allegations coming up against him of wrongdoings even when he was with the anti-corruption movement, but it is not for us to dig the dirt up again at this specific time. Suffice it to say, the ordinary citizens of this country are intelligent too; and when it comes to awareness as to what’s happening, the whole lot of news channels are reaching information by the minute to every home, leave alone the sway of internet and the like that still have a limited, urban reach.

If there’s no tantrum, there is no Mamata Banerjee. She has her styles, and in the minimum, Bengalis are comfortable with these styles, and she’s winning elections repeatedly there. She has every right as a senior politician to be more ambitious, or to enter the ring and stake her claim for the Prime Minister’s post the next time around. If she finally manages to have the numbers in Parliament, in 2019, why not? But, why would she choose this precise moment, this critical time, to keep running to Delhi to wage a fight, as if she represents the entire nation, and in the process expose to the world what is in her mind? Her present brief from the electorate limits itself to West Bengal. She has no business scouting around the national capital. Should national interests come first or the interests of a wily politician like her?

Word that goes around is that she is not only out to upstage PM Modi, but also Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, so as to occupy centre-stage in the national capital and by extension in national politics. The Congress party is down, but not out. It is still the most vibrant political outfit other than the BJP in this country. Its support base was built over a century’s painstaking efforts. The party failed on various fronts in recent years, notably in controlling corruption and checking against the weakening of the systems. It paid a price for it, a la the 2016 general elections. Rahul Gandhi is the second strongest leader in the party, and he has his own ways of doing things. He might not be aggressive to the extent that one expects of him as a principal opposition leader, but he has a dignified approach to things. That earns him respect. He has charisma, and he has national appeal, something that he has largely inherited and partly built for himself by his nice ways. Mamata Banerjee is the anti-thesis of a Rahul Gandhi; and who cares for her outside of Bengal is a funny thought. Narendra Modi’s super luck would be to get her as his principal challenger for year 2019. Having taken note of the drama in Delhi in recent days, he might already have had a hearty laugh at such a thought!

Vultures feed on the dead; and some of India’s politicians are worse than vultures. They behave as if they couldn’t care less if the nation goes to dogs. Evident from the fact that some of them saw the demonetisation as a Tuglaquian measure! The good thing is, they are getting exposed to their bones, by their selfish actions. India needs to have a new, dignified set of political leaders, not bluff-masters but those who carry with them the courage of their convictions. It should, we hope, be the endeavour of both PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi to change not just the political idiom on both sides of the political spectrum, but also the jaded sets of politicians as well. There is need for infusion of young blood, the youths who think differently and in more meaningful ways. People are tired of these existing deadwood, self-seekers, not just in public life but in the nation’s august representative bodies too. Why name one in specific, after all? premcee@gmail.com www.indiahereandnow.com

Last edited by Premchandran; 12-03-2016 at 08:54 PM
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