779 Newspaper Articles Show How the Ruling and Opposition Parties Used the Narrative of the “Common Man” during Demonetisation

The policy of demonetisation announced by the Government of India on 8 November 2016 led to intense debates and discussions among many sections of society in India and abroad. In these discussions, the “common man” emerged as the central character used by the ruling and opposition parties as well as the print media to defend or oppose the policy. Drawing upon narrative policy analysis, the article attempts to deconstruct the characteristics of the common man as revealed in the assertions of the ruling and opposition parties, and analyses the related narrative strategies employed to justify their respective position. Content analysis of a sample of 779 newspaper articles published by four leading English newspapers in India informs the analysis presented in this article.

Research in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, communications, policy studies, and many other social sciences posits the importance of narratives or stories in human life. Narratives help with cognition and communication in daily life, and serve as important tools in understanding and analysing a public policy (McBeth and Jones 2010). In this context, the analysis of stories surrounding policy formation creates a way to examine the spectrum of actors or groups and their strategies around policy processes. 


We offer an analysis of narratives around the policy of demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency denominations by the Government of India which came into effect at midnight on 8 November 2016 through notification number 2652 (RBI 2016). The cited objectives, according to the Ministry of Finance, were curbing of illegal money and counterfeit currency used in terror funding and drug trafficking, shadow economy and tax evasion (GoI 2016). The official announcement stated that the citizens of India had time until 30 December 2016 to exchange and deposit these denominations (subject to certain conditions) in banks and post offices. Besides banks and post offices, certain other establishments were allowed to accept the old, demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency denomination. These included establishments related to healthcare (government hospitals and pharmacies), transportation (government or public sector undertakings, bus, train and flight ticket counters), public utility providers (electricity, water, municipal authorities), consumer co-operative societies, milk booths, crematoria and burial grounds, fuelling stations of public sector oil marketing companies and foreign currency counters (for foreign tourists) at airports (GoI 2016). These denominations constituted around 86% of the total cash currency in circulation (RBI 2016). It must be noted that the cash–GDP ratio in India is the third highest globally (Rogoff 2016). It is beyond the scope of this article to summarise all the discussions on the merits and demerits of the policy or its implementation. However, amidst all the debates in the Parliament, public and private arenas, press conferences and other media coverage, a central character has emerged in the narratives of the defenders as well as the protesters of the demonetisation policy.

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