Modi’s Historic Move

Through demonetisation, the government is attacking the currency of corruption

1/31/2017 3:23:26 PM
written By : M J Akbar Print

The rationale for the most transformative event of 2016 is uncomplicated. All cash transactions are not corrupt. But every corrupt transaction is in cash. High denomination notes are the currency of corruption. If you want to challenge corruption root and branch, you cannot merely trim the branches periodically to appease public opinion. You have to attack the curse at the roots.

Corruption is the mechanism through which a section of our elite has poisoned the credibility of our nation’s political and economic edifice. Governments have been either complicit or helpless as high-end individuals, buoyed by the arrogance of unaccounted wealth, began to believe that they were above the law or beyond the reach of coercive instruments. That comfort zone has been wrecked. And the message that Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers for 2017 is clear: those who turned corruption into a doctrine will pay a heavy price.

Nothing illustrates the complacency of this class more than the manner in which it ignored the long window offered by the government till September 30 to convert black money into white at the very reasonable rate of 30 per cent tax. There would have been calm instead of chaos in their lives if they had used the opportunity. Instead, most of them treated this offer as just another form of window dressing.

After all, they knew the narrative of the past. They understood the dilemma at the heart of governance. How do you challenge corruption through institutions that have been corroded by venality? Alternately, as a perceptive friend pointed out, there can be no perfect solution to 70 years of imperfection.

Nor should we underestimate the power of those vested interests which have been challenged. Their ability to shape public opinion by compounding some inevitable pain in process through exaggeration and fear was on full display. But they underestimated one fact.

Ninety per cent of India is honest, and this 90 per cent has been thirsting for someone to assault this pervasive monster with sustainable commitment. This India was willing to accept passing discomfort as the collateral price of the struggle against cancer. This is why such a massive change took place without violence. This is probably unprecedented.

When the narrative moves from the spike-excitement of journalism to the more measured tones of history, the record will prove that our much abused system also delivered. It took time and there were some gastric hiccups, but the hundreds of thousands of Indians involved in printing and distributing new currency, and the many more in our police, tax and enforcement services got blood circulation back into the body politic and body economic.

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