Friday, December 9, 2016

Is Demonetization an attack on Secularism?

I believe it is a curse on Economics that it does not have an independent existence in the real world. Whatever theory or however strong a model it may be, if and when brought to the real world it gets corrupted by various political and ideological pulls and pushes.

                When I was listening to a speech on the demonetization, the above thoughts came to my mind. The speech delivery was excellent, the audience was receptive, and it was happening in a public place, right in the middle of an evening crowd in a busy market. It was a great opportunity to educate common people across the political divide about the severe repercussions of the demonetization decision- both what is happening and what is likely to happen. 

                Since the talk was organized by a left leaning cultural group and the speaker was a leftist, I did expect some political colour. The speaker was eloquent on how the demonetization affected the equality and dignity of Indians. He painted it as an attack on the rights guaranteed under, and the basic features of, the Constitution.  He explained how the decision should be viewed as a step towards fascism.

Despite my anticipation of politics in the talk, I was a bit disappointed when it got concluded.  Two reasons caused my disappointment. First reason is that the speaker did not make use of the occasion to educate people about many potential consequences of the decision, both for themselves and the economy.  He did not touch upon the importance of choice in a democracy. He did not cover the possible role of new payment banks and digital money companies in forcing the cashless India concept. He touched upon neither the implications of digital payments on the privacy of individuals, nor the assaults on the independence of institutions like the Parliament and RBI.

Second reason is what made my jaws drop.  It was his interpretation of the demonetization decision as an attack on secularism! When the speaker argued that the decision is a part of the RSS agenda against minorities, it came as a surprise. The only fact that he used to substantiate the charge was the Union minister Giriraj Singh’s statement about the need to introduce compulsory sterilization to control the population.

I believe demonetization is perhaps the most secular decision implemented by Narendra Modi Govt. This decision has affected, adversely, every Indian irrespective of his caste and religion (perhaps the reason why even some of the Hindu religious organizations have chosen to criticize the step). The decision can be faulted for being tougher on the poorer sections of the society. But to say, it is a part of the agenda against minorities is beyond all my imagination.

Such an interpretation hardly made any sense to me, even politically. When you are addressing a public audience, and not any party followers, why not try and bring every sections of that audience to your side by sticking to logical and factual arguments (which are available in abundance)? Why divide the audience into secular and communal groups, even on a decision that has affected every one equally? Why preach to the already converted ones? Why not try and convince even those who are supporting Modi on communal lines about the damages that he is causing to the entire economy and people?

Perhaps, there may be hidden political motives for peddling such conspiracy theories, which may be attractive to a captive audience. I will never understand those ground level political motives. I can only wish, an economic disaster of this scale could be approached without seeking to further narrow political agendas.