Demonetization of currency notes as a master stroke from Prime Minister Modi may have struck at the very heart of black money lying domestically in the form of cash, and certainly has disrupted the day-to-day life of common citizens across the country. In a conversation with Sriram Karri, author of ‘Autobiography of a Mad Nation’ and the man who wrote an article in July in HuffingtonPost detailing how such an idea as demonetization should be rolled out in great detail, Fasiullah SM finds out why poor have to bear the brunt while cronies get scot-free.
Below are excerpts:
How does it feel to see the idea of demonetization you promoted is being implemented in India?
I strongly hold Victor Hugo’s view that no force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. Demonetization is an economic idea whose time had come in India. My article was not just an economic idea. It was a political road map on how to do it.
As a writer and columnist, I often think – What can I do for the country? What kind of ideas are needed? It’s a wonderful feeling that one such idea has been realized. But I am not the least surprised by it.
While writing about demonetization, did you realize it could create chaos in an economy which is primarily agrarian?
I call it inconvenience. There’s a lot of inconvenience but that is all it is in the larger schema. There’s a change that was waiting to happen. And we fail to see the chaos and suffering caused to these people by black money and loot of decades.
Is it damaging any business beyond a point? For a few days, a bit of adjustments. No, not permanently though it will impact almost all businesses and walks of life. If the prime minister had pushed too much to make this system perfect by creating notes and making sure ATMs were recalibrated then the information could have come out and defeated the very purpose. It had to be done in secrecy.
In fact, I think this inconvenience and chaos as you call it is the proof that it was done very well. You had to take black money by surprise. In sports or start-ups, disruptive thinking is essential for success. To me, the Prime Minister acted like founder of a young startup with a great disruptive approach to make an impact.
When 90% of black money is stashed abroad, why poor citizens have to suffer while crony capitalists get off scot-free?
I don’t agree with the number. And I don’t agree with the coinage – crony capitalists. I call them crony socialists. If you see since 1991 when liberalization was heralded, certain people become rich with ill-gotten money – but ask yourself where the source of its creation lies. Part of that wealth was created properly through new businesses and harnessing global opportunities. But a part of it was looted. Government was involved in giving special privileges to their friends and paid back as bribes. That money, a large part of it, has, obviously, gone abroad but often returned as foreign direct investment (FDI).
As a country, we cannot beyond a point influence Swiss laws and banking norms. There are three or four things we can do. You must start with what you can do easily and immediately. Of course, the government must pursue it (money stashed in Swiss bank) also.
The biggest source of corruption in this country, or any country, is the discretionary power of the bureaucrats.
As long as bureaucracy has discretionary power, which can help them benefit one private enterprise over another, the consequence will be corruption.
The war on corruption has to be about reducing powers of the government. Citizens’ rights are inversely proportional to the power of the government. Every time you empower a government official to do something based on his whim, you are taking the right of a citizen and creating scope for corruption.
Are you suggesting to reduce the power of government to remove corruption?
The simplest thing is to remove the power of government over economics to a larger extent. I am advocating complete withdrawal of government from economic activities, for a start. I am talking about abolition of income taxes. To begin with, the income tax reduced from 30 to 20 percent. I think lot of government departments can be removed. For example, the Food department; it is an absurdly useless department; and a constant source of harassment and corruption.
Likewise, there lot of things that government does that I hold it should not do. That withdrawal will naturally reduce corruption.
Some people say Modiji just sent finances of all political parties into disarray ahead of UP Elections. Does this move hit political class harder than other classes?
There’s no such thing as politics without economics and economics without politics in a mixed economy. Is this move likely to benefit BJP and Mr. Narendra Modi? Of course it will. Will you be surprised if I say the CEO of Coca Cola is launching a new product which will increase the profit of his company? That’s his or her job.
To do things that will benefit his party [BJP] is part of his job.
But don’t forget the political benefit will happen only when people like the move and benefit from it. If people in opposition say this is to get political mileage – what they are saying, in a democracy is; OMG Mr. Modi the people will like your policy so much they will vote for you. So yes, political mileage is there.
The elections in UP will be cleaner compared to those before. Isn’t that itself a wonderful reason to like this move?
Do you believe people will find new ways of corruption sooner than later?
Absolutely. Indians are very creative. We found ways around Alexander and 1400 years of foreign rule. We found ways to survive. We are very strong. This is a very resilient country. This move cannot eradicate corruption; just clears the benefits of its past stored as cash domestically. It is like a detox program for an individual with bad health; not the entire health campaign.
What would be your first reaction if you get invitation for a dinner with Prime Minister Modi?
I am sure there won’t be any such invitation. If I ever get to meet him, I will present some 4 to 5 more ideas.