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Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images

No Shame in Rollback

Demonetisation—Learn from stronger leaders in history, Mr Prime Minister. There is no shame in rollback

Weak leaders persist in their follies; strong leaders have the confidence to rollback theirs. Persistence in your folly might inflict great harm on the cause you profess and ultimately even you. Being unflinchingly foolish might serve you well in the short run till the mesmerising magic of a fictional hero plays out on the psychedelic screen for a gullible audience. In the long haul, it would invite a scathing historical assessment. A rollback in time from your misstep, on the other hand, will make history more charitable in its overall assessment of your contributions.


This is the centenary year of Indira Gandhi, as strong a leader as ever there was one in India and in the world; whose contributions were bold—abolition of privy-purse for princes, nationalisation of banks, victory in war against Pakistan and assisting in the birth of Bangladesh, in the process standing up to the threats of the most powerful nation on earth, and merger of Sikkim in India. But even she didn’t hesitate in retracting her missteps. Remember her decision to nationalise the wholesale wheat trade? Faced with hyper inflation arising out of the stoppage of foreign aid by the western powers in the wake of the Bangladesh war, two failed monsoons and an unprecedented balance of payments crisis fueled by the decision of the OPEC countries to raise oil prices to sky-high levels, Indira Gandhi was persuaded to believe that wheat trade nationalisation would help fight inflation by abolishing the middlemen between the farmers and consumers and discouraging hoarding. But she took back the decision as soon as she realised its negative effects and found that in the absence of any farm to retail mechanism, farmers were unable to sell their produce. Because of short supply in the market, food prices further shot through the roof.

Being unflinchingly foolish might serve you well in the short run till the mesmerising magic of a fictional hero plays out on the psychedelic screen for a gullible audience. In the long haul, it would invite a scathing historical assessment. A rollback in time from your misstep, on the other hand, will make history more charitable in its overall assessment of your contributions.


Even more momentous was her decision to relax a draconian Emergency, release political prisoners and call for free and fair elections, even though the political opposition to the Emergency seemed to have lost steam and her closest advisors wanted to hold elections after a favourable constitutional amendment would have prepared the way for one party rule. Indira Gandhi’s courageous retraction in favour of democracy put her political neck on the line and she lost power. Despite the controversial Emergency and its excesses, this decision of hers seen in a historical perspective, makes Indian democracy also sort of indebted to her.


Our current Prime Minister might invisibly covet Indira Gandhi’s image of a strong leader. His rhetoric conveys as much. His demonetisation move is intended to be as far reaching in its effect as Indira Gandhi’s bank nationalisation was. One might also be favourably inclined towards Narendra Modi’s professed intention of fighting black money and terror financing through counterfeit currency. But the accompanying untold miseries inflicted on the common people and the long term disruption of productive economy that sensible economists have pointed out as the outcome of a move not thought through, generate ominous foreboding. Along with these, charges of an insider information scam worth billions of rupees have come thick and fast against the ruling BJP. All this and the fact that black money knows more intimately other corners to hide across the country and the world, beg reassurance to the country and its people through a rollback of the move. Learn from stronger leaders in history, Mr Prime Minister. There is no shame in rollback.