On the night of Tuesday November 8, 2016 as the world was tuning into the early trends of the US Presidential elections, PM Modi opened a new front in his war against black money. Not just that, he has done the unthinkable. He has managed to convert a government's war into a people's movement.
Modi has been saying again and again that his government will do everything that is necessary to remove the curse that is black money and to help every Indian in coming out of poverty and improving their life. Whether it was during his 2014 election campaign or later, he vowed to bring black money into main stream economy and make its perpetrators pay for their crimes. Whether while forming SC mandated SIT or during Income Declaration Scheme 2016, he repeated his intent. But, Indians in general and his opposition in particular didn't pay much attention to what their Prime Minister was saying.
Everyone has been jolted out of his or her 'business as usual' or 'things won't change much' state. Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, and Lalu Prasad Yadav are clearly unhappy and are now contemplating 'unity to counter the demonetization'. A large number of Indians are inconvenienced -such a major surgery on political economy would inflict some unavoidable pain - but almost every Indian is united in their conviction that PM Modi will deliver on his promises.
Overnight, Government's war on black money became a people's movement. Bank employees are going beyond call of their duty, restaurants and dhabas are offering free meals to those stranded without cash. From college students to housewives to daily wage earners to retired senior citizens almost everyone is going about their lives with stoic grace.
Some college students told me, 'This (scrapping 500 and 100 notes) is good. We will live in a better India’. A man at Chai tapri said 'people making fun of Modi's foreign travel don't know what he is doing'.
The quips and jokes circulating on Whatsapp also reveal what is on people's minds. 'A well known politician has so many scrapped notes that he will manage to earn crores by selling them as kabadi ( trash). He was checking out kabadi rates on Tuesday night !' Another person requested his contacts 'Please don't palm off old notes to your subjiwali etc. They may not have bank accounts to exchange notes and will face difficulties.' Another quip, 'I never knew a PM has so many powers' -mockingly attributed to a former PM.
Indians are forming lines in front of ATMs and dispersing with disappointment, but with determination to behave well, when cash gets over.
As it would happen, there have been a few unfortunate instances. A few hospitals and doctors refuse to accept cheques. This too is understandable. There have been some unfortunate deaths in the aftermath of the currency shortage. Hopefully, there will be mitigation of handling emergencies and starvation. For example, Maharashtra Government has ordered private hospitals to accept cheques (Read )
People also express concern that some businessmen and accountants might subvert the demonetization by laundering old notes via gold trading or payments in cash to low earning individuals. They are also apprehensive that wily politicians and businessmen will be back to their old games.
The demonetization project is still work in progress. It has earned praise from economists and global media. But much needs to be done. And much will be done.
PM Modi tapped into people's frustration and anger about 60 years of Congress' misrule that left India tottering on the brink of disaster. He didn't stop after winning an election. Through his meticulously planned agenda he has increased his credibility. First proof of this came when lakhs and lakhs of Indians gave up LPG subsidy after his appeal. He helped people overcome their cynicism by optimism and willingness to do their part for their India.
Last Tuesday, PM Modi again staked his credibility to ask people for their cooperation in weeding out the menace of black money, corruption, and terror funding. He also has given some indication of his next step on benami properties. Indians have responded magnificently to their Prime Minister's call. A government project has become a people's movement.
India's economy and political economy are undergoing massive changes. Opposition parties are still grappling with them. These are big areas and are subjects for separate articles.
In world's history there are very few parallels to the miraculous transformation of India that is underway.