The silence finally breaks
The Telegrah Kolkata
11th October 2017
(Note: Readers would recall a July 26 article captioned "How the poison spreads – Bengal is sitting on a powder keg." Here is another article by Mr Jawahar Sircar in the Telegraph Kolkata. This time it is on the futility of demonetization and faulty & hurried implementation GST. He is very forthright when he points out that it is the same NDA which had opposed GST in the UPA regime when they were in the opposition. This article also highlights the return of democracy in the face of virtual dictatorship of the present dispensation which is trying to steamroll all opposition and freedom of expression and enforce Majoritarianism.
Mr Jawhar Sircar, who is one of Bengal's and India's greatest thinkers today, captivates us all with his very sophisticated, in-depth and at the same time satirical articulation. Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, Church Citizens' Voice).
Jawhar Sircar retired IAS and a well known Researcher, Author and Public Speaker.
European explorers of yore never ceased to be amazed at how the eerie silence of the night in tropical and equatorial forests was suddenly shattered at the crack of dawn, by the loud crescendo of numerous sounds appearing out of nowhere. The genetically argumentative Indian who had suddenly remained so quiet for three long years, even when fellow Indians were systematically dragged out and killed in the name of religion, has finally started speaking out. Rather loudly. These include many who were under the spell of powerful demagoguery and also those who were scared of reprisals as never before. Those who had discovered new virtues in intolerance are now quiet, while the small but fearless lot, like Gauri Lankesh, that spoke up against saffron terror have recharged their faith in democracy. Countless discordant voices have suddenly emerged in unison, to challenge the well-choreographed narrative about "the best of times". The tipping point was surely the August 30 report of the Reserve Bank of India, which confessed that almost the entire amount of currency that was demonetized with so much fanfare on 8/11 last year was actually back in the system.That hurts, badly, especially after three years of blind faith and taking in the monthly fixes of Modi's suave Mann Ki Baat.
This meant, in effect, that India has no black money and even the most fanatic trident bearer is not prepared to buy this. The BJP's former minister, Arun Shourie, who can rattle out distressingly detailed facts, has called it the "largest money laundering scheme" and rued this suicidal measure. Memories of standing in long queues for cash may have faded and many have forgotten that nearly a hundred and twenty hapless citizens died before they could get their own money, but the first seed of bitterness was surely planted.
Yashwant Sinha's blast on the mess in the economy has so rattled Narendra Modi that he used not only the young Sinha to counter him but looked up the Mahabharata to call him names. One is not sure how many common people really understood what the next critical announcement meant, that at 5.7 per cent, India's quarterly gross domestic product growth was the lowest in several years. But somehow it made sense and confirmed their suspicions that sheer oratory is not producing jobs, not even the minimum number promised.
And then came the blow of the goods and services tax. There is no doubt that it is a commendable alternative to multiple taxation, although it was none other than Modi and his party that had sabotaged the earlier government's GST proposal.
But its implementation calls for infinite patience and tolerance to explain repeatedly to the taxpayers how the system works, over at least one full year. But both patience and tolerance are in short supply at present, more so as someone is desperate to repeat Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's unique feat of 'unifying India' and to match his political amalgamation with the economic, through GST. Parliament was thus summoned dramatically at midnight just as Jawaharlal Nehru had done on the night of August 14-15 seventy years ago, so as not to miss the hour of glory and not deprive members of parliament and the nation of some more spellbinding oratory. Modi may have overridden sagacious advice to let the system settle in peacefully in two to three financial years, because he has just one-and-a-half political years left to hit the election trail. In taxes and laws, the devil is always in the details and the insensitive babu-drafted GST rules that have been forced upon millions acted as the last straw on the camel's back. It is unimaginable that a party that has grown over decades with the support of the trading community was not aware that small enterprises hardly ever file detailed tax returns, except once a year when they engage some accountant to manage both the papers and the tax-collectors. Now the demand that these small businesses and industries maintain daily accounts and submit electronic forms every month has triggered widespread anger. Thus the charge of the anti-Modi brigade is led, paradoxically enough, by this hitherto loyal right-wing community more than the left liberals. The otherwise meek grocer or small trader now finds fault in everything, from the complicated computerized forms to the irrelevant questions that are asked and they make it a point to tell every customer that higher costs and short suppliers are all due to Modi's GST. They target him, in spite of the 11,000 crore rupees that the Central ministries spent on Modi's advertisements.
In fact, the many thousand crores more that were spent by Central and state governments on innumerable hoardings to carry his face all over the land are now proving bitterly counter-productive.
The same social media that built up the leader and regularly pumped endless materials on his great achievements and glorified Hindu India and its past greatness are now suddenly out of fashion. WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and the lot are presently deluged by satire against the government and the ruling duo from Gujarat. Cottage industries have bloomed overnight to produce low- cost but imaginative audiovisual clips and sarcastic quips lampooning the duo, which was unimaginable a month ago.
Not even known bhakts now dare circulate their daily hymns of praise and the factual distortions produced with so much money and imagination, by obviously better financed media studios, spewing venom on minorities. Vain attempts by government and party officials to tell us that tax and bank authorities will now go hammer and tongs after 5,800 shady companies that made suspicious deposits and withdrawals of some Rs 4,500 crore through 13,140 accounts are met with derision. While the better informed laugh at the minuscule figure against the estimated minimum of three to four lakh crore of black money, the less charitable ask at what rate will the officials fix them, as they have done so far.
Cynicism is running high and, even if we view the strong statements by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Subramanian Swamy as evidence of personal bias or as self goals, we must remember that they are no fools. A lot of what they say surely articulate the frustrations of the foot soldiers in the sangh parivar. Many realize that it will be difficult to explain to voters how India's top 100 richest became richer by 26 per cent and added Rs 31 lakh crore to their wealth in one year, but they added no jobs at all. The railways minister, Piyush Goyal, went into Marie Antoinette mode when he actually declared at the India Economic Summit that unemployment is indeed 'very good for them'. Getting real will be painful.
Although mainstream media have also picked up the cue, at long last, it would be premature to declare that Modi is over. The machinery of State power that he relies on more than his own ministers has yet quite a few tricks up its sleeves.
Economic failures have just started wood-pecking Modi's tree but his obsession for hogging all credit has trapped him, as he is unable to pass the blame on to someone else.
Democracy is, however, back in vogue: that matters most. And, when the masses resort to satire, rulers need to be very, very careful.
Jawhar Sircar is a retired Indian civil servant , who has 42 years experience in Administration, and is equally well known as a Researcher, Publisher of articles, Author and a Public Speaker. He served as Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India from late 2008 to February 2012, where he reported directly to the Prime Minister for most of his tenure. He last served as Chief Executive Officer, (equivalent to the position of Secretary, Govt. of India) of Prasar Bharati from February, 2012 to October 2016. He relocated to Kolkata in November, 2016 to take up his long pending Research and Publication work. He is Chairman of the prestigious Centre for Studies in Social Science, Calcutta (CSSSC). CSSSC is a Premier Research institute that has hosted numerous Foreign and Indian Scholars of the highest order and undertaken path-breaking research & publication in important disciplines of Social Science.