Announced on November 8, the demonetisation of large denomination bank notes was widely described as a “surgical strike” against black money and corruption. Bottom-up methods of tackling graft such as the tightening of controls on real estate and political party funding would take time and effort. Demonetisation promised a one-shot solution.
In keeping with this theme of instant results, Prime Minister Narendra Modi provided a time frame by when demonetisation would show results.
On November 13, at an event in Goa, Modi asked for “only 50 days”. After that, if there was any fault in the demonetisaton plan, he dramatically claimed that he would stand in the town square and be ready to take any punishment the country handed out to him.
“On the first day itself, I said there will be problems till December 30,”he said. “If we have to struggle for 50 days to punish the corrupt, should we not do it?”
Fifty days have come and gone. While it is anyone’s guess what the move did to end black money, one thing is for sure: the pain of demonetisation is still firmly in place. Industry and commerce have dipped and currency notes are barely trickling out from banks and Automated Teller Machines in several areas.
Given this situation, the Modi government and the ruling party have resorted to a novel approach with respect to the original 50-day deadline he announced: they are trying to obfuscate what the 50-day aim meant in the first place.
The first semantic twist was instituted by Prime Minister Modi himself. Speaking to a crowd in Gujarat on December 10, Modi said: “These troubles will remain for 50 days. But after 50 days – I have done my calculations – gradually, the situation will be what it was earlier. After 50 days, you will see for yourself how the situation improves”.
On November 13, “December 30” was when the pain due to demonetisation would end. But on December 10, the meaning of the deadline was changed: it was now a date after which matters would start to improve. Interestingly, this new formulation refused to provide any end date to when problems would cease completely, and cash in circulation as well as industry would go back to pre-November 8 levels.
This semantic shift of the significance of December 30 – and the refusal to provide any end date to the pain of demonetisation was picked up by other Bharatiya Janata Party leaders as a way to explain away the continuing chaos caused by the sudden demonetisation announcement.
On a television debate show aired on December 30, Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed that, “By 50 days the pain will peak and after 50 days gradually it would come down to normal.”
When other panellists on the programme contradicted him by referring to the prime minister’s earlier speeches, Patra attempted to gaslight them by questioning their linguistic skills. “The problem is many English-speaking people do not hear Hindi channels,” said Patra. “I don’t know how many of you understand Hindi.”
When politicians turn to dissimulation of such magnitude, humour and satire is perhaps a better way to take them on rather than logical debate. In as much, the best portrayal of the Union government’s shifty stance on the December 30 deadline came from a comedy sketch put out by comedy group All India Bakchod.
In the video, a voice rather similar to Modi’s is heard announcing various deadlines over the radio. It starts with “Mitron, give me three days only”, gradually moving on to asking for 60 years. In the end, the voice in the radio turns philosophical. “Mitron! What is time? Nothing but a state of mind.”