Last year, about this hour in the evening, I was speaking to a suave Kashmiri colleague in the start up in South Delhi that we worked in. He got a pop up on his phone that Modi ji had banned 500 and 1000 rupees denominations from that midnight. As i walked back from the office to Kailash Colony Market, I picked up apples and the fruit seller was clueless. Then, I walked in with a junior colleague for a quick drink to a lounge next door and there was a palpable panic and they were more than keen to take the final 500 rupee note in my pocket. The quick shot of rum was to dispose off the note.
The next few weeks were mayhem; serpentine lines in front of atms and a sense of perverse happiness that the rich man is suffering. I interviewed the Urban poor/service class from the Banta Wallah (street card vendor selling lime soda) to the maid to the cabbie across Delhi, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai to get the drift for 4 months after DeMo. I left my full time job and turned independent researcher for six months to write full time primarily on the issue of the digital. My bank account literally became cashless.
This was to capture/note the zeitgeist of the times; the biggest shock doctrine application of Chicago school economics on a sub continent size nation, on the narrative of black money and tackling graft. An audacity of hope, with the Uttar Pradesh election in mind.
Clearly, poorly executed event which broke the back of the rural economy; DeMo became the issue which divided the nation. I had not seen the nation so polarised. The nationalists who saw standing in a bank line as national service to the person who thought this as an irrational move.
There has been an entire narrative ecosystem built around justifying DeMo; signalling effect or the nudge towards the cashless, digital economy to a Big Bang measure. The banking data has proved that 99 percent of the notes back in the system, all the lives lost was not all worth it. All the pain, all for a bad policy move.
The silent heroes were the banking staff. A big salute to them. A cash based economy which was demonised by DeMo, is back to normal after a year. The digital wave has stabilised. Cash has not been beaten.
Our present day modernity is shaped by digital forces and neoliberal capitalism and is set to continue by DeMo last year, and AI tomorrow. Politics took the digital and leveraged it as a totem of creative destruction to re shape a society culturally shaped by cash. Technological determinism, a pet peeve of the tech savvy think tank crowd, usually fresh water economists think of society which can be reshaped by technology and the mirage of data driven policy making. The small voices, the subaltern have to be at the receiving end, and that’s the destiny which they have to reconcile to. Lutyens via Chicago and Boston shall design the destiny of the country.
The illusion of the technology is built as a silver bullet to our nations issues. The detritus in the closet cannot be cleaned over night, by a single move. A bold move to a lot of my country men, usually the well healed with Amex cards, dreaming dreaming Changi but living in Chanakyapuri.
DeMo, was an inflection point which redefined policy making in India. A big day needs to remembered for its worth.