Dec 29, 2016

We the People

Pallavi Mody

This write up is not about demonetisation or about how the demonetisation has disrupted the country and the economy. Nor is it about blaming the government, the Reserve Bank of India or the entire banking system.

It is about us; We the People (of India). It is about our behaviour and how it showed different colours with the backdrop of demonetisation over the past month. Nani Palkhiwala wrote a book with the same title way back in 1984. I am borrowing the title and the theme to point out how something major in us is amiss.

To quote Nani, ‘The symptoms of our malaise may be economic’, he says at one point, ‘and may show themselves in price rises and shortages. But underlying the symptoms is a disease which is not economic. The diseases are moral and political and constitutional, and in order to cure them we must recognise them’- ‘We the People’ by Nani Palkhiwala 1984.

I am startled at the behaviour of us over the last month. From the time the PM demonetized the currency notes, we have seen different colours of our people. The masses have silently given their support by patiently waiting in the long queues. They actually believe that the country is getting cleaner, we will get rid of the black money and this much of suffering is their contribution for a better society. They are convinced in the dictum of no gain without pain.

However the classes think otherwise; all gain without pain all the time. The classes have been busy in managing their cash by manipulating the system. In the first phase, it all started from depositing unaccounted money in accounts of the poor relatives, employees and acquaintances. The soaring bank deposits and especially the balances in Jan Dhan Accounts are testimony to the activity.

In the second phase, the rich and influential started connecting through their networks directly with the banks. The new notes issued by the RBI are fulfilling the requirements of this segment. There is a predetermined percentage of commission for the job, get new currency notes for the old anywhere anytime in India. The network is widespread from Gurgaon to Gujarat and Mumbai to Goa to Udipi to Chennai…

Why are we behaving this way? There is not even shame or guilt in openly discussing the matter. This is the way we have tackled taxes in the country for years. Evade taxes legally or illegally. Avoiding taxes by hook or crook was the survival manual in 70s when the highest income tax rate was 97.5%. We are still hanging on to the mindset and even though the current rate is 30-33%, evading tax seems to be just a matter of habit.

Several questions emerge to define out mindset. Are we the people who take pride in breaking rules? Is there devaluation of our value system? Is finding short cuts and getting away smarter than to do what is right? Are we even aware of how a civic society functions?

Take one example – our behaviour on roads. We have gone from bad to worse whether we are motorists or pedestrians. We are ruthless drivers; jump signals, cut lanes, honk, indulge in double parking and pick fights at the drop of a hat. We are careless pedestrians; we cross roads and even railway tracks and resist using the over bridge. Simple road rules would make everyone’s life simple but who wants simple life?

We the people enjoy living on the edge. We the people enjoy breaking rules. We the people are smart.

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