Demonetization: The Politics of Public Suffering

Demonetization: The Politics of Public Suffering

Prem Singh

There have been various and repeated references to the suffering of the public caused by the decision of demonetization by the government. The suffering of the ordinary people due to this astounding decision has been criticized even by the High Court and Supreme Court. Around 100 people have died because of it. The supporters of Prime Minster Narendra Modi claim that people are not distressed with this decision; they are happy; if people were unhappy, they’d be on the streets protesting instead of queuing up outside banks. But at the same time they are seen threatening the sufferers and the journalists who dare to high light their plight. However, at some point Modi supporters could recognize the suffering of all the people who are queuing up outside banks from morning till night. That is why they constantly remind the people of the hardships endured by soldiers on the borders. The Prime Minister claimed after the implementation of demonetizing that suffering would be over in four to five days, but later he made an emotional appeal telling people to brace for another 50 days, for the country’s sake!

The public, specially the working class, has suffered a lot after demonetizing. The utterance of some genuinely concerned persons regarding the plight of the public saying that those who are responsible for this would be cursed by the poor (garib ki haay lagegi), is but a weak plea. Such poetic justice pleas have no place in today’s politics. In a democracy, no government has any right to inflict misery upon the people even for one day. Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, in his doctrine of immediacy, held that the justification/legitimacy of every action/decision must lie within that action or decision. Any rationale offered with reference to the future good, merely help governments/political parties unleash oppression on people. In the case of demonetizing too highly exaggerated claims are being made for the emergence of a ‘golden India’ in the future as is seen in expensive advertisement campaigns by the government.
In the wake of the adoption of neo-liberal economic policies, there is a precipitous change in the attitude of the ruling class towards the suffering of the ordinary people. The ruling class does not fear the power of the ordinary people’s vote, or that the suffering people could defeat it in the next elections. In any system when people are pushed to the brink of desperation, the result will be termination of life itself. In the era of neo-liberalism, as per the Crime Bureau record, around three lakh farmers have committed suicide. The situation continues. But it makes no difference to governments and politicians. Because elections are fought with black money in nexus with campaign companies, corporate houses, electioneering strategists and media. All these agencies decide when and which party and leader will form the government at the centre. In this era of neo-liberalism footloose specialists are directing political parties and governments in India. In this situation, ‘suffering of the public’ provides the path for political verbiage and swindling. The prime minister and his specialists, claiming to end the difficulties of the public in 50 days, know very well that the public will suffer even after that.

Whatever the considerations may have been for demonetization six months back, the misery of the people was not one of them. The misery of the people is no longer a problem for politicians. The leaders know that their campaign machinery will win hands down against it. They will manufacture consent for themselves. The miserable people will again vote-in those whose politics favours only the corporates. The ruling class makes such arrangements that people view the pain of continuous miseries like suicide, displacement, unemployment, inflation, disease as inevitable adage to their religion, caste, region etc. In this process the people get progressively a-politicized. The situation of ‘there is no-alternative’ is actually a result of the public’s a-politicization. The consequence is that it ceases to ally with those parties and leaders who seek to build a political alternative that challenges the neo-liberal order. The situation gets further complicated when a majority of civil society and peoples’ movement groups take on the role of brokers which overtly or covertly facilitates the established order.

The foreign-funded NGOs act as safety-valves in order to keep the neo-liberal order intact. They divorce political workers from political work and promote the process of a-politicization. The proponents of neo-liberalism claim that there is no alternative to neo-liberalism, nor is it needed. If there are problems within neo-liberal system, they make NGOs sort them out. In the recent past the whole hearted support of the civil society and peoples’ movement groups to the anti-corruption agitation sponsored by two NGO heads proved very damaging to alternative politics against neo-liberalism. That agitation was openly and actively supported by RSS, corporate houses and the likes of Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar and General VK Singh. Anna Hazare had praised Narendra Modi then, and not adverse to him even today. Not just this, the Aam Aadmi Party, born right from the womb of the corporate was supported by the secular progressive civil society, and still is, despite the fact that this party clearly advocates an anti-ideology stance for everything, including the ideology of the Constitution. For many of those people, if Rahul Gandhi cannot be the alternative to Modi, Kejriwal might.

Post 1991, it is not just the public that has been a-politicized, the civil society too is undergoing the same. Leaving aside a few exceptions, hardly any intellectual of stature took a decisive stand against Manmohan Singh’s new economic policies. Those who claim that Modi is a calamity thrust upon the nation by idiots, need to stop and reflect on how genuine their concern for the public’s suffering really is? Every era yields its ‘yug purush’ in its own true image. After Manmohan Singh, Modi is the aggressive representative of the Indian civil society cast in the neo-liberal times. It is a false reassurance that this was merely an election won by 31 percent of the vote. Those greatly moved by the distress of the public in the wake of demonetization are searching for an opposition to register their protest. Post 1991 politics in India has progressively turned unilateral, which is neo-liberal. Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik are supporting demonetization. Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, both support neo-liberalism and in this regard are guided by the imperatives to consolidate the Muslim vote bank.

In the debate on black money, nowhere does it get mentioned that it is the money looted from the wealth generated by the working class; and that the process of this looting is accelerated with the implementation of the new economic policies in 1991. In India, neo-liberalism is the name of the interminable and unrelenting sufferings of the working class. Even after 25 years of neo-liberal regime, there is unashamed assertions about the ‘golden future’ it is supposed to usher. That means farmers’ suicides, displacement of tribals, the ever increasing army of the unemployed, and the lives of the crores of people working day and night on dams-highways-bridges-airports-mega buildings etc., is the price to be paid for this ‘golden future’. The working class will pay this price in the future too. Imagine how many generations of the working class will be sacrificed to build 500 smart cities? Who will be sacrificed in the conversion of the country to the digital/cashless mode? The responsibility of children’s upbringing, education, health and entertainment in a democracy lies with the state. But there is no place for the children of the working class in neo-liberal India’s present or future. What can be more damning for the politics of the country than the fact that the public has come to consider its destiny to slog and die building the neo-liberal order?

Public suffering ought to be alleviated: no one can disagree with this in principle. One could begin working in this direction. Parties against Congress and BJP should come together and tell the public that they will root-out the neo-liberal order and frame their policies according to the Directive Principles enshrined in the Constitution. If the resolve is honest, the 2019 election can be easily won. Black money of the corporates will not be needed for it. The endorser of neo-liberalism often turns out often to be the endorser of neo-imperialism. The freedom of the nation, achieved after many sacrifices eventually turns into slavery in the clutches of neo-imperialism. One should hope that the supporters of Congress and BJP, especially the young ones, will not quietly witness this squandering of freedom. They can support the politics that opposes neo-liberalism. Or force their parties to desist from the path of neo-liberalism.

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