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Monday, November 21, 2016

Did we Demonetise Gandhiana?

As i write this on the 20th night, the announcement is over 10 days  old. the intention, no one in the country challenges, the timing, the unpreparedness and the utter chaos that has resulted, everyone is concerned. more so, if they are people in the margins and have to juggle with the hard work and also getting themselves 'system compliant'.

but, that is not the purpose of this post. what worries me is the change of language in presenting an political - economic decision.

"Surgical Strike" itself sounds like an oxymoron. what is a "strike" about surgery? surgeons don't describe their work as being of "striking" something / someone, their terms tend to be more like plumbing - cutting, pasting, stitching, fixing, removing blocks, joining things, etc., the modern surgery is closest to plumbing in its lexicon than military.

So, "Surgical Strike" seems to be an american invention where they "minimize the damage to other civilian agencies through targeted attack only on the opposition".  so, this is similar to several other terms that are primarily aimed to glorify a particular part of the act while declaring the other act as being as part of the same. it also carries the hidden message that some "strikes" being tried out with precision are far more important in value than the "damage" of the few that are not intended to be struck.

in fact, this term seems to be closely linked to the other term, "collateral damage", it has been well defined -
American culture makes divisions between worthy and worthless lives. This distinction is justified by a cultural logic that deflects the murder of people as the unintended consequences of social and foreign policy. The phrase “collateral damage,” first developed by the United States military to deflect civilian deaths caused by aerial bombing is now seen as metaphor for the larger social policy of the American government both at home and abroad. (source here)
understanding the geneology of these terms is important for us to grasp the hidden value propositions. some lives are worthy of being "targeted" through "surgical strikes", whether they are "struck" or not, others that are worthless may be  hit in the process as "collateral damage".  

so, why should "demonetisation" be called a "surgical strike" on black money? after all, demonetisation has been done before and regardless of what are the multiple aims behind the act, the act itself is a shift in the legal financial tendering. 

in a country of India's magnitude, obviously, it is going to take time. while it is true that it was done thrice earlier, it is also true to recognize that perhaps more people use money now than even perhaps during the last time during which demonetisation was done in 1978. if it was seen as a "shift in processs" rather than a "strike" of some kind or another, then, it would have followed an administrative process whereby there is a clear preparation of the government and financial institutions to administer the shift in a manner that doesn't really impact too many people. no, it had to be "Strike", chest thumping strike, nothing short of it.

and then to insult our ordinary people by calling them as "collateral damage" as though their lives are worthless in the scheme of things for the system. if it was considered that the ordinary citizens are being serviced by the government and the "service" included ensuring that the "least inconvenience" is  felt by the masses in such transition times, they same would result in innovative ways and pro-active measures. but, instead, we have "war footing" initiatives in ATM re-calibration. why war footing? can't our government ever do anything effectively and efficiently during times of peace and as service to people?

in fact, the media is equally to blame for it, ToI heading reads, "people battle it out in banks and netas ready for war in parliament" and they are reporting the inconvenience caused to the common man in the street and the leaders in a democratic state discussing the issue in parliament. the entire effort is being titled as "Mod's War on black money"! we are talking about an administrative process of shifting of legal tender in a democratic country by a leader of a majority party. in fact the words "war" and "battle" have been maximum used in the context of demonetisation. i wonder whether ever before such violent language was used by media for an administrative process in independent India?!

but that is not all, today, the voice of media is further impacted (sometimes even guided through engineered 'trending') by the social media that has the middle class as the most articulate force and they have become even more violent in their moral uprightness in this issue - from calling those who oppose to "go spend a day with the army protecting our borders", to, calling them "anti-nationals" and "maoists", the sheer violence in the matter of financial discourse represents a new language that has been fomented by "re-claiming our kshatriya-hood" project that has been cleverly inserted as a backdoor Americanization initiative of the hindutva brigade. Sanjay Shrivastava has noted this well - 

First, there is remarkable resurgence of anti-poor sentiment. As the idea of citizenship transforms from a political ideal to one defined by the market – the consumer-citizen, as some call it – there is great antipathy for the poor and their everyday lives. They are seen to be bad consumers: stealing electricity, encroaching upon valuable urban spaces with their slums and not allowing corporate conglomerates a free run over their lands for mining and industrial activity. The moral middle class, on the other hand, has achieved its success through sheer hard work and intrinsic merit. (source here)
as he states, this new found violent narrative seems to be a new moral statement for a middle class which has often not encountered more violence than what they see in bollywood movies where their image of themselves as the protagonist always wins with the declaration of good over evil.

this demonetisation has coalesced a new social language of violence, perhaps less heard and dis-aggregated till now in different debates of local and sectoral levels. this is the  disturbing factor, far more disturbing and cause for concern. the middle class is a growing population, the media increasingly caters only to this class, the governments subscribe to their views for poll victories and influencing factors in local levels, and, this middle class has become so violent in a country that still carries Gandhi in its currency. does his views on violence carry any currency at all? i think that has been the real demonetised part of this new "war zone" nation. 

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