Demonetisation – the ‘Mother of Bad Ideas’ – was the most critical policy action of the Modi Government, and also one of the most critical policy actions by any Government in the history of Independent India. But we still don’t have any clear answers to a Mount Everest of unanswered questions: what really led to the policy decision, who was the actual adviser of the Government, whether any ‘socio-economic viability study’ was done before putting the entire nation through the ordeal, why the implementation slacked, what was the volume of the new notes which were printed, why The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is still unable to release all the data pertaining to Demonetization and so on.
We urgently need laws which will compel every Prime Minister – from any political party – to conduct open press conferences; we also need an official spokesperson of the PMO and the Government who will answer unscripted questions from the press and media. The misty opacity of Governmental doings needs to be cleared with policies which favour openness and transparency.
We all know that nothing has been more opaque than Demonetisation Policy and the people have the right to know the truth in the midst of organised propaganda, spins, myth making and psychological operations.
As a nation, we need to understand, why we suffered – and still suffering – and who are the actual beneficiaries of our collective angst, trauma and loss of well-being.
During the first few weeks after 8/11, the Modi Government flip-flopped about the objectives of Demonetisation, and ultimately admitted that the goal is also to create a ‘cashless-economy’, and then, a ‘less-cash economy’.
In November 2016, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly speech on national radio, he exhorted everyone to embrace the ‘digital world’ and said ‘We can gradually move from a less-cash society to a cashless society’.
Now, we all know that the ‘cashless’ / ‘less-cash’ goal has abysmally backfired: the amount of cash in the economy hasn’t only returned to the pre-8/11 level, but actually exceeded it in April this year. The cons of the Demonetization policy clearly outweighed the pros. Catastrophic damage was done to the organised and unorganised sectors, economy slowed down, job losses ensued, lives were lost, people’s livelihoods were disrupted and the reduction of 1.5 % in the GDP – as predicted by Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – amounted to a unrecoverable loss of 3-4 lakh crores.
While few things have become unquestionable and obvious, the unquantifiable psychological damage, loss of confidence on our institutions and the full-spectrum of the adverse chain-reactions of the policy will still take several years to grasp and to understand.
But what is not widely known is the role of The United States of America to forge a ‘digital economy’ aka ‘cashless-economy’ in India, and this needs to be known, understood and spoken about in context of Demonetisation.
Modi Government, Obama Admin and Cashless Catalyst
In January 2017, one article – A Well-Kept Open Secret: Washington is Behind India’s Brutal Experiment of Abolishing Most Cash by German economist and business journalist Norbert Häring – received widespread traction on social media and in the sphere of Western Independent Media, but the story – a vital aspect to understand Demonetisation – wasn’t widely picked up by the Indian media except for a few, including The Citizen.
I spend several weeks in researching about the things which the article pointed towards. I was convinced enough to imbibe a couple of articles – one by Norbert Häring and another by F. William Engdahl – in a fictional story – Demonetisation Tales: The Ghost Detective – that I published in the Punch Magazine to commemorate the first anniversary of 8/11 in November 2017 and to capture the event in literature.
Exposed to the constant organised propaganda by the establishment, one gets manipulated at a conscious and unconscious level that compels ‘self-censorship in thinking’. One feels the impulse to dismiss truth as imagination or even a ‘conspiracy theory’ when one encounters a hidden aspect, new information or a fresh perspective.
In order to defeat the impulse, one only needs to visit the website http://cashlesscatalyst.org/ that says at the bottom of the home page ‘CATALYST is an initiative funded by USAID under the mSTAR Program, through funding provided to FHI 360. Housed within IFMR LEAD, the initiative aims to expand digital payments and financial inclusion in India, especially for small merchants and low-income consumers.’
In About, it says that the aim is ‘to increase adoption of digital payments in India, using a targeted ecosystem approach’ and ‘our vision is to realize an inclusive digital economy….’
When scrolls down About, one comes to the following – whose screenshots are presented – that tells a story.
In January 2017, Tony Joseph also wrote a series of articles – one of them is Understanding demonetisation: Who is behind the war on cash (and why) published in The Scroll – that pointed out that India joined ‘Better than Cash’ Alliance in 2015.
‘Better than Cash’ Alliance is one of the many partners of Catalyst that include ‘anchor partner’ Niti Aayog.
So things finally fall in place: Modi Government signs understanding and formalizes partnership with the Obama administration in 2015, USAID and US corporations – along with select US foundations – get involved, studies are conducted and reports submitted to the Indian Government, Catalyst launches in October 2016 and Demonetization – that also gave a catalyst to ‘cashless society’, private Fintech companies, banking sector, financial surveillance and technocratic digitalization – is announced on 8 November 2016 as a fight against corruption, black money, terrorism funding, hawala transaction and so on, and then the objectives widen subsequently to include the creation of ‘cashless-economy’ / ‘less-cash economy’ / ‘cashless-society’.
We now understand that even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be held responsible for his brainchild ‘Demonetization Policy’, but the goal to forge ‘cashless society’ wasn’t originally ideated by him, but was ideated by Western powers, and was simply ‘marketed’ and implemented in India.
One would also want the Government to respond to the scheme of events, as laid out in the website of cashlesscatalyst.org and answer this vital question: to what extent did this ‘cashless’ policy collaboration with the USA influence Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of Demonetization?
The Larger Question
Why do we need a ‘cashless society’ anyway? People never demanded ‘cashless society’ nor was the totalitarian idea introduced, debated and decided upon in the Indian Parliament.
We also know, advanced economies like that of Japan and of Germany, prefer to use a high percentage of cash, and they also fall in the group of the least corrupt of all nations.
So who really benefits from ‘cashless society’?
Few days ago, The Guardian published an article by Brett Scott The cashless society is a con – and big finance is behind it.
Brett Scott writes about what is now a universal phenomenon ‘Financial institutions, likewise, are trying to nudge us towards a cashless society and digital banking. The true motive is corporate profit. Payments companies such as Visa and Mastercard want to increase the volume of digital payments services they sell, while banks want to cut costs. The nudge requires two parts. First, they must increase the inconvenience of cash, ATMs and branches. Second, they must vigorously promote the alternative. They seek to make people “learn” that they want digital, and then “choose” it.’
The larger question is why are the elected governments worldwide – including that of India – agreeing to impose policies promoted by – whom Brett Scot calls ‘Big Finance’ or the unelected western banking / financial elites?
Why the policies and the agenda of the unelected one tenth of the global 1% – from the creation of ‘cashless societies’ to ‘data is the new oil’ – are being pushed by the elected governments, biased think-tanks, crony intellectuals and pro-establishment / pro-plutocracy media to the people around the world?
The answer to the above is simply – what Brett Scott pointed out: ‘corporate profit’ masked under noble cause of public good.
It is also clear that people never demanded ‘cashless society’: it is being imposed on us by our own elected governments with the collaboration of unelected ‘Big Finance’.
In our neoliberal world of state-sponsored ‘digital terrorism’, where national interest – when spoken by the governments – actually implies corporate interest, it doesn’t matter to the Modi Government whether it is really beneficial to push US backed neoliberal policies in India. Nor does it consider whether the technocratic policies of an advanced high income nation of the West will work for a low-middle-income developing nation of Asia.
The irony is that the ‘hyper nationalist’ Modi regime is imposing the ‘western neoliberal template’ – ideated by the Brett Scott’s ‘Big Finance’ – in India without any sensible consideration or critical thinking or larger public debate, and causing more damage and misery, than any lasting good for the people of our nation.
A ‘fully privatized’ government won’t be able to address the issues of the people. Inequality would continue to accelerate and more power, wealth and privilege will continue to concentrate in the hands of a few. Numbers will show growth and stock markets will rise, but life will get harder: the Human Development Indices will fall, the poor will be trampled and the Middle Class will get choked.
We need a genuinely pro-people government, not a government of the western financial elites, the big corporations and the Indian super-rich that pretends to be pro-people.
Our sovereignty to choose our own economic and foreign policies also shouldn’t be in danger. Our government needs to protect the interests of the people of India, and avoid collaborating with elite foreign powers to impose unwise policies – which are also damaging western societies – upon us.
One has to write a separate article to point out the socio-economic devastation, loss of civil liberties and massive inequality caused by neoliberal policies in the West, which are now being mindlessly imported into India.
The reckless experimentation to forge a ‘cashless society’ has caused unprecedented loss and suffering, comparable to the brutal misdeeds of the colonial past.
But colonialism is not dead; it has resurfaced as neo-colonialism in the guise of pro-corporatism neoliberal ideology – that Noam Chomsky ideates is destroying democracy – which is in the process to re-colonize the world on the behalf of unelected western elites – Brett Scott’s ‘Big Finance’.
Sovereignty and Demonetization Enquiry
The issue of sovereignty – to choose economic and foreign policies which might not synchronise with the policies backed by the dominant Western powers: US and ‘Big Finance’ – is also a crucial issue of our times.
I hope greater awareness and public debates will ensue in the regard to the collaboration/coercion/meddling by vested foreign powers – elected and unelected – upon the policies of India, the dangers of becoming a vassal / client state and losing our traditional non-aligned status.
Sovereignty lies at the very root of moral, intellectual, emotional and spiritual nourishment of a person, and also of a nation. India has fought the brutal exploitation of colonialism and imperialism to gain sovereignty, freedom and independence. But the battle is not over; we suddenly need to fight in the 21st century to keep it that way.
Now there is a need to protect ourselves – our democracy, constitutional rights and civil liberties – from being indirectly re-colonised via imperial policies of globalist corporate totalitarianism – from ‘cashless society’ to ‘data mining’, from ‘digital surveillance’ to ‘centralised technocratic control’ – that is being facilitated by our own ‘nationalist’ government.
The other features of the neoliberal ideology is to expand privatisation, increase cost of living, create debt based society, extract high taxes from the people, reduce welfare and subsidies and funnel the increased tax collection – tax-payers money – to select corporations – through governmental contracts, dodgy defence deals and misplaced spending, and thereby causing severe imbalance in development, fall in human development indices and chronic inequality.
The key opposition leaders such as Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury and Mamata Banerjee have already voiced their support for ‘Demonetization Enquiry’ that would investigate all the aspects, reveal all the truths and answer all the pending questions.
Along with the promise of a ‘demonetization investigation’, we also need to see the issue of ‘sovereignty’ in the unified opposition’s manifesto in 2019. This will only gather them more support.
After the miserable failures of the ‘development’ and ‘good governance’ planks – which largely brought Narendra Modi in power in 2014, the regime is increasing moving towards outright communal and polarisation agendas in its bid for re-election.
The toxic brew of hate and greed – desi Hindutva ideology and videsi Neoliberal ideology – is causing crisis, after crisis, in India. The socio-cultural engineering mission of Hindutva and economic engineering mission of Neoliberalism are choking our people, diluting our democracy and rupturing the societal fabric.
Those who are aligned with the ideals of our Constitution need to do what they can to prevent the gradual transformation of our country to an ‘authoritarian theocratic plutocratic totalitarian corporatocracy’: a neoliberal Hindutva Rashtra.
As things stand now, there is no other alternative but to replace the Modi regime in 2019. The much required course-correction cannot be expected from the present leadership.
But the irony is: the adventurism of the Modi Government – along with the US / ‘Big Finance’– to create ‘cashless-economy’ / ‘less-cash economy’ in India is more likely to lead to – along with other factors such as opposition unity – to ‘voteless BJP’ / ‘less-vote BJP’ during the most crucial of all General Elections in the history of independent India.
[The views expressed belong solely to the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the editorial team]