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50 days of note ban: Modi went to slay a three-headed monster, returned with a rat

Suhas Munshi | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:47 IST

On 8 November, Narendra Modi announced the most radical economic decision of the year. The move to delegitimise more than 86% of Indian currency overnight was to destroy terror financing, unearth black money reserves and expose the corrupt - or so we were told.

On the fiftieth day of demonetisation, responding to the Congress's jibe that all that Modi had unearthed after digging up a mountain was a rat, the prime minister said, "I was looking for a rat only."

The metaphor Modi used to describe black economy and its dealers is instructive. It shows how the man who went out to slay a three-headed monster 50 days ago has returned with a rat, and is proud of it.

All talk about terror, corruption and the shadow economy has been replaced by the promotion of electronic economy and the wonders of it. And the fight against the terror networks has somehow turned into a mega lottery scheme.

And a lot of political posturing. On Friday, Modi launched an e-wallet app called Bhim, named after BR Ambedkar, which would allow one to transact money with just a thumbprint.

The prime minister also inaugurated two lucky draw schemes - Lucky Grahak Yojana and Digi-Dhan Vyapar - that will weekly reward lucky consumers who conduct digital transactions. And a bumper draw will be conducted on 14 April, the birth anniversary of Ambedkar.

The app requires one to have a smartphone and an active internet connection. But like several other digital schemes promoted by the Indian government, it fails to account for the reality that just 26% of Indians have access to internet. How, if at all, this magic app eases the severe strain that India's informal and farming sectors have been put under will be interesting to see.

Also Read: Notebandi & politics: What is the problem with demonetisation?

And how e-wallet apps like Bhim will solve the original three problems the note ban was meant to address isn't clear either. Modi has hardly made any references to terrorism, corruption or black money in the past couple of weeks.

There has barely been any talk about terror financing since Rs 2,000 notes were recovered from a terrorist killed in Kashmir on 22 November.

Over 90% of the delegitimised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes are said to have been turned in to the banking system so far - curiously, the RBI has stopped issuing weekly updates about this - which proves that the Modi government had no idea about the nature and quantity of black economy.

As far as the goal of catching the corrupt goes, no headline arrests of tax defaulters have been made so far. What has instead emerged from news reports is a case of moral impropriety on part of the ruling BJP - the party bought land worth several crores in a few states just before demonetisation was announced.

But maybe we are judging Modi too hard too soon? Well, the prime minister is expected to make some big announcements about "electronic and cashless economy" in his address to the nation on new year's eve. So, in a few hours, we will know.

Also Read: Bundelkhand farmers on note ban: We survived the drought but Modiji broke our back

Edited by Mehraj D Lone

First published: 30 December 2016, 11:38 IST
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom crime stories. On being accepted as an intern at Livemint in 2010, he etched PRESS onto his scooter. Some more bylines followed in Hindustan Times, Times of India and Mail Today.