Demonetisation and its discontents

November 28, 2016 12:03 am | Updated November 17, 2021 05:41 am IST

Demonetisation seems to have made friends of foes, and foes of friends in the political firmament. If Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar differed from his allies while heaping praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for embarking on demonetisation, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was critical of his party’s senior partner in government for “bringing tears in the eyes of the people” who had voted it to power. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress showed a readiness to join hands with arch-rival Left Front to fight the demonetisation drive. While the withdrawal of high-denomination notes can hardly be expected to trigger a political realignment anywhere, political parties seem to be rising above mundane political calculations while reacting to the demonetisation. A cynical view might be that Mr. Kumar is keeping his political options open by building bridges with the BJP, and keeping his politically junior but numerically stronger ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, in check. Arguably, he could be trying to recover his assiduously cultivated anti-corruption image, which took a beating following his electoral pact with Lalu Prasad of the RJD. But a simpler explanation cannot be ruled out: that Mr. Kumar saw some merit in the demonetisation drive, even as he recognised the difficulties in implementation. Similarly, the Sena cannot afford to break with the BJP at this juncture. Quite likely, Mr. Thackeray was prompted not by the possibilities of political realignment (of which there is practically none), but by the realities on the ground, in distancing himself and his party from the demonetisation decision. In West Bengal, an alliance between the Trinamool and the Left Front is inconceivable, but that did not stop Ms. Banerjee from reaching out to the CPI(M) in her fight.

If political parties have thus reacted unpredictably, it could just be on account of the mixed results seen on the ground. None can afford to be seen as directly opposing measures to clean up black money and weed out counterfeits. However, stories of cashless banks and shuttered ATMs seem to have given some life to opposition parties looking for an issue to pin the government down on. Reports of the BJP having made huge cash deposits in banks in West Bengal, and land deals in Bihar days before the demonetisation, have provided some ammunition to opposition parties that were initially reluctant to criticise the move for fear of being labelled supporters of black money hoarders and counterfeiters. Demonetisation might not have changed political equations, but it has shaken up the political scene. What they cannot oppose in principle, parties have opposed in practice.

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