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The ‘Feel True’ Politics of Demonetisation

Will the obliteration of foul facts diminish the power of truth?

It is a truism that politicians practise fabrication of lies, underplay data and blatantly distort facts when it is expedient. Arguably, the threshold for defining the “expedient” is determined by their political urgency to camouflage the breach of promises made by them, especially when a “fate-determining” election is in the wake. Based on our experience with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the last few years, it will not be an oversimplification to straightforwardly link the government’s habitual and unapologetic lies about various economic and social policies to the flurry of promises that Narendra Modi had made to his electorate in 2014, but failed/cared less to fulfil after coming to power. However, there are defenders of these deceptions, too, who strive to legitimise such anomalies of the present government as “hyperbolic truth” (mind you, not “lies”) and a clarion call for changes to “cleanse” India (of the age-old economic delinquencies) which “only this” government could dare to think of. Despite being backed by rhetoricians’ defences, the BJP’s recent economic deceptions are far from tenable by robust economic logic, with the government’s self-proclaimed “ethical move” of demonetisation having to bear the major share of culpability.

More than mere denial/distortion of contrary evidences, the despotic and egoistic disdain with which the BJP government subverts such facts to legitimise its mendacity, should be a bigger concern. The recent incident where the union agricultural ministry had to backtrack an evaluation report carrying the (adverse) effects of demonetisation on the farm sector, supplant it by a new version with differing results, and show cause the concerned officials on charges of violation of protocol, exuded not only the brazenness of the government but also its recklessness, in a way saying “it’s a lie, but then who cares.” The moot question now, in fact, is, who should care? While the government is expected to care for its accountability obligations, the electorate and opposition cannot evade their responsibilities of holding the government accountable at least for its “explanatory” obligations (that is, answer for misgovernment). But, with the introduction of high-octane demagoguery based on prejudices, sentiments, and sensations caused by the “transpositioning of lies” on political opponents (abetted to a large extent by social media’s selection biases and immediacy of propagating aversive emotions), Indian democracy is encountering the shrinkage of spaces for dialogues, let alone discourses.

Thus, it is no wonder that the current political discourse misses out the intellectual content of demonetisation. In the farmer protests/marches held across the country throughout this year, and particularly the last one in Delhi on 30 November 2018, the political parties in the opposition may have succeeded in harnessing the popular (rural) sentiment on the predictable lines of agrarian distress like support/farm-gate prices, indebtedness and loan waivers, etc, but (in)advertently (dis)missed the transition of context set by the ineradicable economic damage from demonetisation. For instance, instead of the demand for raising the minimum support price (MSP), which cannot benefit farmers unless backed by strong procurement, building up an electoral consensus for a robust procurement strategy was more warranted, particularly against the contractionary effect of “cash-strappedness” on rural employment and income.

The kind of “post-truth” politics that the BJP has brought into the Indian political domain has created affiliative truths with both supporters’ and opposers’ responses/reactions being equally affective and/or based on cherry-picking of data. For example, the opinion piece by the BJP’s Member of Parliament (MP) Varun Gandhi, “Job Creation at Farmer’s Doorstep” in the Hindu, dated 3 December 2018 and Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s election campaign in Dholpur, Rajasthan on 10 October 2018, high on promises for job creation, are works of similar ephemeral political interests of securing the vote bank. And in tandem, none provides any clarity on fundamental questions. How is non-farm diversification plausible when the informal sector, a major buttress of rural non-farm employment, is reeling from the shock of demonetisation, and the goods and services tax (GST)? Or given the absolute decline in employment in the unorganised manufacturing, construction, trade and transport sectors, how will the promise of new job creation materialise?

It is perturbing to find that while challenging the ruling government’s falsehoods, the protestors/opposition are not only contending on the soft subjects, but also in an identical language of “morality” that defeats economic judgment. In that way they miss out/dismiss hard matters, which could have been critical to voters’ “informed” choice of their leaders/government. Such acts of omission are tantamount to the government’s relentless dismissal of facts. In the absence of concerted efforts by the opposition/protestors to scrutinise the agrarian issues in the context of the structural alterations caused by demonetisation, there is the imminent risk of the BJP government’s hyperbolic report to appear authentic and hence befuddle electoral choices. But, it is heartening to find that the BJP’s lies have also galvanised a moral outrage in the “reverse” direction. With a section of the civil society the claims of “change” have not gone unexamined, and for them demonetisation is an outraged response to the partisan politics embedded in the BJP’s “moral” call for change. The 2019 elections, in fact, will be a test of strength of the Indian democracy to leverage the sensibility of this civil society in finding a new language of rebuttal of this post-truth politics.

Updated On : 11th Dec, 2018

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