Opinion

Demonetisation is a sacrifice that cleanses. It is the real swachch abhiyan of the republic

There is no sense of injustice or a feeling of being misused. It is a pollution ritual that involves everyone.

There is a touch of the eerie about politics that the Narendra Modi era inaugurates. I must confess that it is not in the stated rhetoric of the regime. Its ideas of patriotism, voluntarism, purity, security have enough violence, installing fear in the very hint of policy. The vigilantism that polices dissent on these occasions is obvious and brutal. But these are the bully boy tactics of any populist regime. Such criticisms have been stated beyond redundancy.

I want to talk about another kind of fear, a fear that oozes out from silences, from patient lines waiting at ATMs, in the quiet support of the middle class. These ATM lines are not like the ration card lines of the socialist regime. There was a tiredness, an unruliness, a fatalism to waiting then. The new generation waits differently. Even when there is despair, it is muted.

There is a sense of tacit trust of support for the regime. It is as if the crowds are acting as if they were the surrogate legislators of monetisation that (this pain, as Urjit Patel called it) is necessary and for the future good. It is almost as if a new social contract has been initiated, where the crowds believe in the leadership. There is a sense of faith, of solidarity, which I can only describe as policy patriotism. Policy patriotism emerges when the social group supports a regime because it shares a common vision of the future.

The language of discussion immediately changes. There is no sense of injustice, or a feeling of being misused. There is not much discussion. It is as if people are aligning to the Truth of policy. There is deep patience. The language is not of suffering and pain but of sacrifice. Sacrifice is much nobler. Suffering allows complaint, even a touch of hypochondria. Suffering can be spread and inflicted unfairly. Sacrifice is self-inflicted. It is suffered for a dream, a promise. Suffering can corrode but sacrifice cleanses the republic – many citizens are talking of demonetisation as sacrifice. It is the real swachch abhiyan of the republic, an act of cleansing, a pollution ritual that involves everyone.

These events also mark a particular relationship between leader and followers. The leader is seen as joining in the act of Socratically drinking the cup of hemlock, sorry, Kadak Chai, to demonstrate his commitment to his policy. So Kadak Chai becomes a refrain, a ritual of loyalty of solidarity.

Prelude to tyranny

Policy always creates rituals that require affirmation. These need not be acts of solidarity which can be loud and rhetorical. These are more effective in being understated, muted, speaking the language of silence as affirmation. It is not an ideological statement. It is a semiotic agreement, a tentative act of solidarity which digs deep into the body politic.

The mythical opening raises old memories. One saw this tacit support in the first days of the Emergency. There was a new sense of order. Trains were running on time, clerks were present in offices. It was a middle class sense of bureaucratic order where the time table is a piece of social contract and punctuality the new morality. One could smell change in the air, the whiff of progress which changed into fear much later.

One senses something similar, the initial approval of a draconian regime. The tacit tenor is once again discipline, law and order – and it appeals to the middle class psyche. Yet sometimes the signals are not clear. The crowd seems captive to Modi. It is behaving in the way a child seeks a parents’ approval or the kidnappers captives respect their kidnappers. The people want to show they share his decisiveness, his machismo, that they are like him.

Yet it is this that is worrying in a populist, majoritarian regime. There is little scope for dissent. One cannot say people suffer differently, that the targets of the regime might be sitting smugly. It reminds one of a cartoon where Modi on TV is claiming that demonetisation cleans black money. Lounging in the room are culprits of 2G, black money and they are laughing. The irony hits home.

It demands that narratives of policy be many sided and yet the ground level support may not allow dissent. I sometimes wonder whether emergencies begin as self-imposed entities, of people gung-ho about sacrifice, desperate for change before the regime like a chameleon changes colour. There is a loneliness and marginality too. The silence of the argumentative Indian is eerie. It calls for a more clinical set of readings. Something does not smell right or is mine a liberal fear of an old fashioned scholar?

I cannot help feeling that there is a touch of the Pavlovian in the prelude to tyranny.

Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.