2016 belongs to a shepherd and his silent lambs. His vow to sacrifice himself with a passionate “Hang me, if I’m wrong” plea and its ambiguous moral significance still resonates wide and far. The man who challenged him with an “I have a bomb” has lost it in the wilderness of silly social media jokes. 2016 is also the short distance that India’s central bank ran from the uncompromising “I do what I do” to the meek “I do”.
The year that just passes by owes its moments of glory and gloom to the biggest economic surgery that the 66-year old republic has ever undergone. The mutiny at Bombay House, the unceremonious change of guard at RBI and the runaway billionaire Vijay Mallya are far too insignificant, for the time being.
The year has hopefully split the Independent India into two – a corrupt India of pre-2016, legacy hotspots of black money nearly crippling the country’s economy, and of post-2016 that promises a new India as unpolluted as the Ganges (no pun intended). The Nano GSM Chip embedded in the Rs 2,000 note and a windfall of Rs 5 lakh crore to the government through seigniorage turned out to be ill-timed April Fool pranks, but India is counting on thousands of its citizens turning honest tax-payers in 2017, giving a big boost to the exchequer.
When compared with Sweden, the best example of a cashless economy having 98% of transactions off-cash, India’s approach has been unique. A non-corrupt government, along with advanced technological infrastructure and reliable legal protection, helped Sweden go cashless, while India hopes to create a non-corrupt government and bureaucracy and the required infrastructure, by cajoling citizens to go cashless. We go the opposite way, and rewrite an old adage: demonetization is the mother of all necessities. And we have choked the money supply to smoke out the corrupt. Indeed, several unintelligent (or stupidly brave) bureaucrats, bankers and businessmen have landed in the I-T net.
Amid a mound of bad news, let me also highlight a couple of amazing stories that give us hope. One is of Amul dairy farmers in Gujarat going cashless. The federation has shrugged off the initial woes of demonetization and has opened around six lakh new saving accounts, at the last count. Another story, from down South, is of untold benevolence and honesty. A private-run cancer hospital in Thrissur, Amala Institute of Medical Sciences allowed patients to avail services and pay their dues, running into Rs 27 lakh, at a later stage, as many found it difficult to raise cash in November. Recently, when they rechecked the accounts, they found that the patients had come back and paid the entire dues, barring an insignificant Rs 2,500.
The government move may have left several cash-based cottage industries and rural economy reel, hopefully for a brief period. 2016 will also go down the history books as a year when thousands of housewives and mothers in India lost their sense of autonomy that cash, squirrelled away from their husbands and sons, gave them. But these are small sacrifices that every Indian makes for a new 2017. Of course, it pains when a malignant part is surgically removed. We hope to be back on our toes with vim and vigour in 2017.
Till then, let’s sing: “Gimme hope… before the morning come.”
The writer is editor, DNA Money.
He tweets @AntoJoseph