The President’s message
When the Prime Minister announced on the night of November 8 that he was unleashing a war on black money and black money hoarders by demonetizing 500 and 1000-rupee notes, the people thanked him profusely. But doubts and disillusionment began the very next morning as unending queues for unending days started before the bank counters and ATMs. The people found they could not withdraw their own hard-earned and tax-paid money from their savings accounts. Critics of demonetization were dubbed supporters of black money and opponents of the drive against black money. Later the Prime Minister said people would suffer for just 50 days then good days would be here again. The Prime Minister’s optimism has not been borne out by subsequent experience of the people. How much black money has been recovered is still not known. What is known is the death of about 125 people standing in queues and announcement by the banking authorities that restrictions on withdrawals will continue.
Now a warning has been sounded by the President himself who was the country’s Finance Minister for a long time. In his speech at the video conference with the Governors of States and Union Territories he has said that the poor need succor here and now; they cannot wait for long. He has cautioned that demonetization may lead to ‘temporary slowdown’ and reminded us that without the participation of the poor the nation cannot progress towards a future devoid of hunger, unemployment and exploitation. He has, once again, emphasized the need to protect our pluralistic democracy, practice tolerance and ‘respect contrary views’. He has underlined the importance of preserving these values. What is more, quoting Nehru he has reminded us that this country has been held together ‘by strong but invisible threads’. Reading between the lines it would seem the President is aware that these ‘threads’ are under severe strain and may well snap if things are allowed to drift.
Indeed, short-circuiting democracy is a tempting alternative for all rulers in all ages. But in the long run authoritarian methods and measures fail and throw society into disorder and anarchy. It is for the people to overcome fear and remain firms in their resolve to defend their freedom – not only from foreign rulers but indigenous rulers as well, because freedom is indivisible and has to be defended and protected by eternal vigilance. The people cannot allow themselves to be carried away by high-decibel propaganda or deceitful demagoguery.