First economic satyagraha

The demonetisation drive aims to cleanse the ills of neoliberalism.

Written by Dr Rakesh Sinha | Updated: December 20, 2016 11:45 am
demonetisation, demonetisation effect, demonetisation process, demonetisation news, black money, black money total, new currency notes, npas, modi black money, modi demonetisation The Congress and the Communists have no agenda; they are opposed to demonetisation but shy away from saying so directly.20

The government’s demonetisation drive has seen fierce debates. Opposition parties, with the exception of the JD(U), are visibly confused. Their protest is directionless — a case of wanting to have the cake and eat it too. Each of them rails against black money but none has any formula. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is an exception, supporting demonetisation with a demand for a strong law against benami property.

The Congress and the Communists have no agenda; they are opposed to demonetisation but shy away from saying so directly. Their ploy is to raise the people’s day-to-day problems with the banking system to question the government. Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal are categorical in demanding a rollback of demonetisation, but offer no economic and political rationale.

When the move came into operation, it was not unanticipated that people would experience some pain for a few months. Nevertheless, they have extended support to the government. Such support cannot be interpreted in a limited sense; its wider meaning should be read along with the ideological contextualisation of demonetisation.

Black money took off with the neoliberal turn to the Indian economy in 1991. Neoliberalism, a version of the 19th century politico-economic philosophy of laissez faire, enhances the wealth of a few and makes the majority subservient to the market, while making the state an executive of big business and capital. Common people are impacted both by inequality and black money. Even vital minimum needs like health, education and housing become an end in themselves.

Demonetisation should be the beginning of a revision intended to humanise the market and legalise hidden assets. Old polemical divisions in politics — never inappropriate in India, but imposed because of a Cold War ideological polarisation — have become irrelevant. In the 1950s, the RSS thinker Deen Dayal Upadhyaya identified the left-right divide as anti-people because it deters the evolution and contextualisation of development policies, and enforces ideological ghettos. His initiative enabled the Bharatiya Jana Sangh to differentiate itself from laissez faire forces in India, namely the Swatantra Party, a replica of the European right-conservative. The party’s vote percentage had risen to nine per cent. There was a popular demand from both sides for the merger of the Swatantra Party and Jana Sangh (their combined voting percentage was over 16 per cent).

But Upadhyaya accorded primacy to ideological pragmatism over political expediency. In his view, the Swatantra Party’s economic philosophy was not for the welfare of peasants and poor; it was a party of Dalal Street. The Jana Sangh under his leadership took a great egalitarian turn, like supporting zamindari abolition, strikes by central government employees and land reforms.

Neoliberalism since the 1990s impacted the political morality and culture of every political party. It is the biggest onslaught on our democracy. Old doctrines of political parties remained unrevised but adjusted themselves to new economic forces and political aspirations. This is a fundamental reason for the decline of political discourse, reflected in the invective on television directed at political opponents.

In the 1960s, the Indian right had Minoo Masani, N.G. Ranga and Piloo Modi; the communists had Bhupesh Gupta, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Jyotirmoy Basu, A.K. Gopalan; the socialists had Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayprakash Narayan and J.B. Kripalani; the Jana Sangh had Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Balraj Madhok, Upadhyaya and Atal Bihari Vajpayee with the RSS. There is now a need to revise old ideologies in the face of new technologies and forces, global politics and people’s aspirations. The gap between slogans, idealism and practical formulations is one of the reasons Indian socialists and leftist parties have lost ground.

Demonetisation has resurrected the ideological debate on economic reforms. The people’s support is based on their ideological premise of minimising the gap between rich and poor and reversing devaluation, rather than surrendering the state’s role in economics, leaving private parties to grab natural resources in collusion with state agencies.

RSS veteran and trade union leader Dattopant Thengadi opposed neoliberalisation’s premises, suggesting a third road between capitalism and communism. The present radical step in a larger context is being actualised by a prime minister derided as a right-wing reactionary. This is nothing but anti-Modi-ism, which makes even the Left go against its own politics and ideology.

The country has witnessed many political satyagrahas, but this is the first economic satyagraha when people use their wisdom to articulate opposition to neoliberalism. It is up to Modi and his team whether they use the measure as a philosophical correction to neoliberalism or just as a random programme. Time will test both the opposition and the government.

The writer is associate professor, Delhi University and honorary director, India Policy Foundation.

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  1. S
    Satendra kumar
    Dec 21, 2016 at 8:47 am
    Satyagraha of self reliance with the country's needs technology agriculture own government it's governance than conectvity to other states or the world.
  2. A
    Arun Mehta
    Dec 20, 2016 at 7:26 am
    Surely, it is first of its kind Major Corrective Economic activity undertaken since Independence by Modiji but to call it satyagraha would be misplaced / misleading. Anyways, what is in a name as long as it serves purpose. To me, demonetisation is complex policy decision aimed at 'future good' and success depends on how nicely it is articulated in media and executed on ground with w lot of follow up activities including avoiding recurrence and catching the 'theft' and more importantly the 'thief'. So far so good, Prof. Sinha. Thanks for adding philosophical contours to the economic exercise. Time alone will tell the utility or futility of the exercise. But one thing is certain. There is somebody who will not shy away from taking BOLD decisions if he thinks it is in nation's interest and will not be unduly concerned about electoral politics. Else this wouldnt have happened.
    1. I
      Dec 20, 2016 at 11:03 pm
      So called Third Way politics is what the Congress has been practicing all these years from Nehru to Manmohan Singh. There is nothing new in this. With all due respect to the professor, this article is of a piece with the BJP's complete lack of originality. It is pathetic to see the BJP supporters denigrating the Congress in order to create a narrative for themselves. The arch-pracioner of ging with half-truths and omissions being Modi himself. This man calls Indira hi a coward for not demonetising in 1971 when everyone recalls 1971 as the year that indomitable woman broke up stan. Modi will never be half the man she was.
      1. J
        Dec 20, 2016 at 1:41 am
        1. K
          Kalayata Maha
          Dec 20, 2016 at 1:52 am
          The peculiar pleasure of being in one’s own universe!
          1. R
            Dec 20, 2016 at 1:47 pm
            Adani, Ambani and Modi-Enjoy your new economicc satayagrah
            1. V
              Vishwanath Natarajan
              Dec 21, 2016 at 9:06 am
              He is quite clearly a leftist in his economic beliefs who quite openly longs for the license babu raj of the 70s and 80s. He is supporting Modi here just because as he sees it the the demonetization seems to be doing just that .. empowering the babus just as in what he thinks were the "good old days". Everyone who supports Modi is not a right wing ideologue.
              1. V
                Vishwanath Natarajan
                Dec 20, 2016 at 6:26 am
                "Neo Liberalism" post 1991 ? wow !!! I would like to ask you sir, how old are you ? Are you old enough to have lived and seen what it was like in the socialist heydays of the 1960s and 70s. So as per you "Black money took off with the neoliberal turn to the Indian economy in 1991" .. wow ! before that things were pristine and there was no black money ?? In a way you are right .. before 1991 our economy itself was minuscule and so even the black money during that period would have been minuscule as compared to today. It is the so called "neo liberal" policies post 1990s that allowed the economy to grow and with it the black money. Iam 100% sure that black money as a percentage of GDP would have been far higher in the 1970s when maximum tax rates were in excess of 90% and believe me .. no man in his right senses will pay Rs 9.5 out of every Rs 10 that he earned as tax to the government. That was extortion and not tax. Also describing the post 1991 liberalization period to "laissez faire" is like first tying up a man's hands and feet and blindfolding him and then untying one hand and calling him "free". You leftsts never cease to amaze me with you total lack of rationale !
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