Demonetization was one such move which took the entire nation by a surprise! Like everyone, initially, even I thought that it was a genuine move by the Prime Minister. The ultimatum of 50 days was also over and finally the market began to get normalize, but what I was unable to understand was the shifting narratives with respect to demonetization that appeared throughout this time period and thereafter.

At the very first instance, when demonetization was announced, the major factor for introducing it, as dubbed by PM Modi, was eradicating the problem of black money in the country. Slowly, when some people (not the hardcore modi bhakts) started questioning the true intent behind the demonetization move, as the big business houses hardly got affected and maximum amount of black money (in the form of white money) found its way back to the market very soon, the narrative then shifted towards the national security and anti-national activities. According to the government, the demonetization move was targeted towards the terrorist groups operating along the borders of India-Pakistan, Naxalites etc. When government realized that even this part of the narrative is receiving a cold response, then the entire flow of the debate was moved to the digital economy or cashless society. In that also, at a very later stage, the government clarified that cashless society means “less cash society”.

With every ministry’s web-page promoting the digitilization of transactions and cashless society, the new image of Modi government for making society digital, robust and more efficient started to build. This was the time when the entire public debate with respect to demonetization was put to rest, because people got distracted due to this brilliantly crafted jumla of “digital/cashless society”.

Now with almost every shopkeeper having the facility of Paytm (not to forget that Modi appeared personally for an advertisement too) and every state organizing the digi-dhan mela (no doubt that these fairs did the fantastic job of disseminating the digital literacy to the public) the primary intent behind the demonetization move that was of eradicating black-money is not even in my farthest sight.

My hardships for transforming from a cash based society to a digital one was not even over when another interesting stance with respect to demonetization came. The Modi government again changed the direction of this entire debate and stated that the move was aimed to counter the growing prices and financial irregularities in the real estate sector.

Government never discussed the loss that economy suffered during the demonetization period and after it. Modi government failed to take care of the fact that very soon, after the demonetization move, fake currency started entering into the market system. Crimes like illegal mining, terrorism, and smuggling hardly sustained any damage (I am not mentioning the demonetization deaths, farmers’ losses, agriculture supply chain disruption, hardships for daily wage labourers).

Still, thousands of people standing in queues shouted “Modi ji ke jai”! Modi continued to label those who didn’t support the move as “desh ke gaddar”, “chor” etc. (he is very popular for making some real desi and crisp comments though) and people continued to applaud him. Different surveys showed him as the most popular leader due to his demonetization move. Even I understand the fact that every new step needs some time and support, but then making people fool by making such a massive economic policy appear vague, couldn’t be understood.

After Demonetization, even the UP Elections saw the same fate. During the beginning of the election campaign in UP, BJP gave me the memories of 2014 Lok Sabha elections where entire debate was pitched on the notions of development and growth. Later, I realized that even UP elections will have changing outlooks.

UP which is considered to be a major state when it comes to election is suffering from some serious issues like law & order problem, rural electrification, corruption etc. Modi (along with Amit Shah) started with the idea of developing the state but very soon turned to age-old and popular, communal based politics.

First instance was recorded when BJP under its manifesto for UP elections once again commented on Ram Mandir matter, which is considered to be a very sensitive issue (considering the fact that around 19-20% of the voters in UP are Muslims). Very soon the entire election campaigning in UP shifted from noble “development” to the rhetoric “communal/religious” issues. PM Modi characterized even the electricity for that matter while addressing a massive rally in UP. Amit Shah openly talked about why particular castes were getting laptops while the other castes didn’t.

Today, there are equal number of arguments regarding the demonetization policy. It is tough to question the genuity or the true intention of this policy, but the changing facets of the same has created a major doubt, at least in my mind.

Also there’s a vast difference in what is preached and what is practiced. Despite the landmark judgment of SC on religion and politics (Abhiram Case), the political parties (not only BJP) continues to address their massive campaign rallies on the side-lines of religion and castes.

(This was originally published as a note in Hari-Kamal Foundation for Policy Research’s facebook page)

Author: Rishabh Shrivastava, Director (Hari-Kamal Foundation for Policy Research)

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