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decemBER 8, 2018

The ‘Feel True’ Politics of Demonetisation

Will the obliteration of foul facts diminish the power of truth?

t is a truism that politicians practise fabrication of lies, protests/marches held across the country throughout this year,
underplay data and blatantly distort facts when it is expedient. and particularly the last one in Delhi on 30 November 2018, the
Arguably, the threshold for defining the “expedient” is political parties in the opposition may have succeeded in
determined by their political urgency to camouflage the breach harnessing the popular (rural) sentiment on the predictable
of promises made by them, especially when a “fate-determining” lines of agrarian distress like support/farm-gate prices, indebted-
election is in the wake. Based on our experience with the Bharatiya ness and loan waivers, etc, but (in)advertently (dis)missed the
Janata Party (BJP) government in the last few years, it will not transition of context set by the ineradicable economic damage
be an oversimplification to straightforwardly link the government’s from demonetisation. For instance, instead of the demand for
habitual and unapologetic lies about various economic and social raising the minimum support price (MSP), which cannot benefit
policies to the flurry of promises that Narendra Modi had made farmers unless backed by strong procurement, building up an
to his electorate in 2014, but failed/cared less to fulfil after coming electoral consensus for a robust procurement strategy was more
to power. However, there are defenders of these deceptions, too, warranted, particularly against the contractionary effect of
who strive to legitimise such anomalies of the present govern- “cash-strappedness” on rural employment and income.
ment as “hyperbolic truth” (mind you, not “lies”) and a clarion The kind of “post-truth” politics that the BJP has brought into
call for changes to “cleanse” India (of the age-old economic the Indian political domain has created affiliative truths with
delinquencies) which “only this” government could dare to think both supporters’ and opposers’ responses/reactions being equally
of. Despite being backed by rhetoricians’ defences, the BJP’s recent affective and/or based on cherry-picking of data. For example,
economic deceptions are far from tenable by robust economic the opinion piece by the BJP’s Member of Parliament (MP) Varun
logic, with the government’s self-proclaimed “ethical move” of Gandhi, “Job Creation at Farmer’s Doorstep” in the Hindu, dated
demonetisation having to bear the major share of culpability. 3 December 2018 and Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s election
More than mere denial/distortion of contrary evidences, the campaign in Dholpur, Rajasthan on 10 October 2018, high on
despotic and egoistic disdain with which the BJP government promises for job creation, are works of similar ephemeral
subverts such facts to legitimise its mendacity, should be a bigger political interests of securing the vote bank. And in tandem,
concern. The recent incident where the union agricultural ministry none provides any clarity on fundamental questions. How is
had to backtrack an evaluation report carrying the (adverse) effects non-farm diversification plausible when the informal sector, a
of demonetisation on the farm sector, supplant it by a new version major buttress of rural non-farm employment, is reeling from the
with differing results, and show cause the concerned officials on shock of demonetisation, and the goods and services tax (GST)?
charges of violation of protocol, exuded not only the brazenness Or given the absolute decline in employment in the unorganised
of the government but also its recklessness, in a way saying “it’s a manufacturing, construction, trade and transport sectors, how
lie, but then who cares.” The moot question now, in fact, is, who will the promise of new job creation materialise?
should care? While the government is expected to care for its It is perturbing to find that while challenging the ruling govern-
accountability obligations, the electorate and opposition cannot ment’s falsehoods, the protestors/opposition are not only con-
evade their responsibilities of holding the government accounta- tending on the soft subjects, but also in an identical language of
ble at least for its “explanatory” obligations (that is, answer for “morality” that defeats economic judgment. In that way they miss
misgovernment). But, with the introduction of high-octane dem- out/dismiss hard matters, which could have been critical to voters’
agoguery based on prejudices, sentiments, and sensations caused “informed” choice of their leaders/government. Such acts of
by the “transpositioning of lies” on political opponents (abetted omission are tantamount to the government’s relentless dismissal
to a large extent by social media’s selection biases and immediacy of facts. In the absence of concerted efforts by the opposition/
of propagating aversive emotions), Indian democracy is encoun- protestors to scrutinise the agrarian issues in the context of the
tering the shrinkage of spaces for dialogues, let alone discourses. structural alterations caused by demonetisation, there is the im-
Thus, it is no wonder that the current political discourse misses minent risk of the BJP government’s hyperbolic report to appear
out the intellectual content of demonetisation. In the farmer authentic and hence befuddle electoral choices. But, it is heartening
Economic & Political Weekly EPW decEMBER 8, 2018 vol lIii no 48 7

to find that the BJP’s lies have also galvanised a moral outrage in embedded in the BJP’s “moral” call for change. The 2019 elec-
the “reverse” direction. With a section of the civil society the tions, in fact, will be a test of strength of the Indian democracy
claims of “change” have not gone unexamined, and for them to leverage the sensibility of this civil society in finding a new
demonetisation is an outraged response to the partisan politics language of rebuttal of this post-truth politics.

8 decEMBER 8, 2018 vol lIii no 48 EPW Economic & Political Weekly

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