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‘DeMon,’ Nationalism, and Democracy

Demonetisation was an abysmal fiasco; the nation must be rescued from its ruling classes.

As we go to press, the Narendra Modi-led government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have just celebrated 8 November as “anti-black money day.” It was on this day last year when Prime Minister Modi announced that in order to “break the grip of corruption and black money,” within four hours “five hundred and thousand rupee notes will no longer be legal tender.” This, without the Reserve Bank of India and the banking system being ready to replace all the 86% of the country’s total currency that was going to be withdrawn. What ensued was total disruption of economic life. Of course, Modi knew he was about to subject hundreds of millions of people to misery, inconvenience, suffering, and indignity; yet, astoundingly, his manner was one of utter calm and composure.

He was doing something that defied reason, but yet he appeared confident that the demonetisation—let us call it “DeMon” for short, given that Modi has a definite proclivity to unleash demons—would render the notes hoarded by all the seasoned dealers in black money “just worthless pieces of paper.” Those seasoned dealers, Modi surely knew, clever in the ways of business and politics, would soon resort to jugaad (unauthorised workarounds) to get most of their black money back into the legal banking system.

What then were the government and the BJP celebrating on 8 November this year? The fact that over a hundred persons lost their lives standing in serpentine queues, waiting endlessly to hand in their demonetised notes, and hoping to get hold of the new ones? The event wherein a number of people had to bear the agony of the possible loss of their near and dear ones in want of cash to pay for urgent medical emergency procedures? The happening, of casual labourers being compelled to accept their wages in the demonetised currency and then having to “travel to the nearest bank and stand in lines to exchange the notes or have them exchanged at a discount through commission agents”? The truth that in northern India, “after difficulties with the marketing of the kharif crop, a fresh round of difficulties emerged with sowing of the rabi crop”? All the distress and despair that the DeMon decision brought upon the common people are related with a rare sensitivity and empathy by our former colleague C Rammanohar Reddy in his recent book Demonetisation and Black Money (Orient BlackSwan, 2017).

For what one might ask was this subjection of hundreds of millions of people to so much suffering and indignity, and even many deaths? Just 1% of the demonetised currency has not returned to the banking system, and even here, not all of this can be presumed to be black money. Only about 5% of the estimated counterfeit currency has been removed by DeMon. Clearly, DeMon, in terms of its officially stated objectives, has been a miserable failure. The question, however, remains as to why there were few, if any, organised protests and demonstrations in the wake of the infliction of so much distress and suffering. Indeed, in the near aftermath of DeMon, the BJP was voted to power with an overwhelming majority in Uttar Pradesh, mainly on the strength of “brand” Modi, the man who had remained calm and composed even as the demon (DeMon) he had let loose had caused so much suffering all around. One reason is that nationalism, now of the Hindutva variety, still holds sway. To “break the grip of black money,” a majority of the people believed, Modi would make the notes “hoarded by anti-national and anti-social elements … just worthless pieces of paper” [our emphasis].

Clearly, it is yet to be widely realised that the transfer of power from the British colonial rulers put the now predatory, lumpen Indian ruling classes in power, with little basic systemic change. Therefore, the struggle for economic freedom requires a revolutionary movement against these ruling classes, as also against the lumpen “political class” that plays the role of a broker for the particular interests of powerful groups within the system. Liberal-political democracy, while it has at times (for example, in getting rid of the Emergency regime) served to protect the people from the strong autocratic political proclivity of Indian capitalism, it has not enabled the exploited, the oppressed, and the dominated to gain political power to advance their own interests. Instead, the rulers have used democracy to advance their own interests, apparently with the people’s consent.

The BJP’s Hindutva-nationalist lie, which allows the “anti-nation within the nation”—the Indian ruling classes and their political brokers—to ride roughshod over the people, needs to be exposed. Modi’s exhortation in the name of nationalism, indeed, patriotism—its Hindu variant now the opium of a majority—still seems to work its magic and gets that majority high on patriotic feelings. The truth, however, needs to get across: the black economy (and black money) is an integral part of predatory Indian capitalism; the only way of getting rid of it and the bigger demon of which it is a part, is class struggle against the “anti-nation within the nation”—the Indian ruling classes and their political brokers.

Updated On : 22nd Nov, 2017


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