Last month, a number of Opposition leaders decided they would mark November 8 as a black day to protest the government’s decision one year ago to demonetise 86% of India’s currency. The decision resulted in tremendous distress for many Indians and an economic slowdown. A few days later, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party would be celebrating the anniversary of the note ban as Anti-Black Money Day, and criticised the Opposition for not supporting the move.
That the same day will have two different names is somehow appropriate for the one-year anniversary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s big-bang move, which impacted nearly every Indian and appeared to help his party win the Uttar Pradesh elections a few months later. The decision also led to the deaths of many people and caused economic distress from which the country is yet to recover, with little in the way of actual gains.
To avoid admitting that, the government quickly moved on from the initial objectives that Modi laid out in his speech on November 8, suggesting many other reasons why demonetisation was carried out. So, here is a list of things November 8 could be celebrated as:
- Anti-‘Grip of Corruption’ Day: Modi’s very first announcement on November 8 said that the objective of the move was to “break the grip of corruption and black money”, while also fighting against fake currency. Data from the Reserve Bank of India, however, suggested that all of the demonetised currency was returned to banks, contrary to government expectations, suggesting that the corrupt probably did not keep their black money in cash.
- Anti-Cash Day: What do you do when you realise that illicit money was probably not being kept as cash? Insist that cash itself was the problem anyway. As IndiaSpend noted, even though Modi did not mention it while announcing the decision on November 8, by the end of November he was using the term “cashless” three times as much as “black money” and was no longer talking about fake currency.
- Anti-Idle Savings Day: Out of the blue, the Finance Ministry announced another aim that seemed to have nothing to do with corruption, and instead was a way of forcing people to put their money where the government wanted it. This may have been accurate, and indeed the recent Bank Recapitalisation Bonds have been enabled by excess deposits in the system. But it certainly was not mentioned as one of the objectives of the decision. Moreover, it’s unclear why should the government decide how people save their money.
- Anti-Anti-Black Money Holders Day: Soon after demonetisation, the government described black money as a “crime against humanity”. But, even as the BJP’s digital army was out in force labeling anyone who criticised the move as corrupt, the government put in place not one but two amnesty schemes allowing those black money holders to come clean and return to the banking system.
- Anti-Terrorism, Drug Smuggling, Human Trafficking, Stone-Pelting Day: Modi claimed in a speech in December 2016 that demonetisation had “destroyed” the terrorism, drug mafia, human traffickers and fake note smugglers. Arun Jaitley even claimed that demonetisation would stop stone pelting in Kashmir, pedding the conspiracy theory that protesters are paid for their actions. The government has not offered any evidence to suggest these activities have been destroyed, and indeed, stone-pelting and militant attacks have continued.
- Anti-Small Tax Base Day: Arun Jaitley offered another objective of demonetisation while speaking to a parliamentary panel in January. He said that the verification of deposits and so on was likely to “deepen and widen the tax base”, yet another claim that is still to be borne out and one that went unmentioned on November 8.
- Anti-High Real-Estate Prices Day: Here is Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian adding his two bits to what seems like a free-for-all to add to the many objectives of demonetisation. “Real estate you do see a blip in prices, sales and launches and of course some of it may be adverse to the economy but in the long run, some of that could be good because aim of the demonetisation is to bring down real estate prices,” he wrote in the Economic Survey.
- Anti-Informal Economy Day: This is a country cousin of the admission that demonetisation was meant to force people into saving the way the government prefers them to. In a speech in February 2017, Jaitley said, “there is greater integration of informal economy taking place with formal economy that leads to larger and cleaner GDP, that was our objective behind the decision on demonetisation.” As many have pointed out, an informal economy is not the same as a corrupt one.
- Anti-Bad-Cash-to-GDP Ratio day: Most recently, the government insisted demonetisation helped achieve a better cash-to-GDP ratio, from 12% to 9%. This, it claimed was proof of a cleaner economy. What was not mentioned in the same breath, however, is that the ratio actually spiked in the first few years of Modi’s tenure, and that the fresh figures may yet change as more currency re-enters the system.
- Anti-Anti-Modi Day: Modi said, soon after his move, that the forces he is taking on “may not let me live” and yet he called on the people to bear with the pain caused by demonetisation for another 50 days, after which he would be prepared for any punishment the country gives him. It has since been more than 350 days since that speech.