Jairam Ramesh: Sultan Narendra bin Tughlaq’s firman unravels

The promise contained in the announcement by the PM on demonetisation is unlikely to be fulfilled because the hope of the Sultan has been belied. But he would not let the RBI release the figures

Photo by Shankar Mourya/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Shankar Mourya/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Jairam Ramesh

The news is not yet official. But the report has not been denied either by a media-embedded Finance Minister. Reportedly, 97% of the currency in circulation prior to the demonestisation bombshell of the Prime Minister on the night of November 8, 2016 has returned as deposits in banks.

This makes a complete mockery of the propaganda that the ‘demon’ move was essential to deal with the menace of black money. The expectation was that 70-80% of the cash in circulation in the form of ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes would come back into banks and the balance that was unaccounted for would get liquidated.

It is possible that the Prime Minister had been alerted to this possibility. Hence, he kept changing the narrative ever so often. From combating black money it became fighting counterfeit money, then it became fighting corruption, then it became going cashless and digital, then it became a new, clean, rule-based economy and what not.

But the only empirically verifiable metric of success of ‘demon’ is the money returned to banks as deposits. If it is confirmed that 97% has returned, which again no one in Government has as yet denied, it means that the Prime Minister’s grand theatrics in his usual style have amounted to nothing except inflicting untold misery and suffering on all sections of society but particularly farmers, farm labour, workers in the unorganised sector and labour-intensive enterprises.

It has also destroyed the RBI’s decades-long reputation for professional and independent thinking and reduced it to an appendage of the Ministry of Finance.

But the only empirically verifiable metric of success of ‘demon’ is the money returned to banks as deposits. If it is confirmed that 97% has returned, which again no one in Government has as yet denied, it means that the Prime Minister’s grand theatrics in his usual style have amounted to nothing except inflicting untold misery and suffering on all sections of society but particularly farmers, farm labour, workers in the unorganised sector and labour-intensive enterprises.
Jairam Ramesh

More than 600 years ago, a new currency coin was introduced in India which carried the inscription “He who obeys the Sultan obeys the compassionate.” The people of this kingdom were asked to deposit their wealth in gold and silver and take these brass and copper coins in return.

This would lead to huge inflows into the treasury and result in prosperity for all, proclaimed the Emperor. It turned out that the treasury did not receive as much wealth resulting in utter economic chaos which eventually led to the disintegration of the kingdom. The Emperor was Mohammad bin Tughlaq.

600 years later, we have history repeating itself. Our 21st century Emperor, Narendra Modi ruled that nearly all of our currency will be invalid overnight and forced us to exchange it for new currency. He proclaimed that our obedience to him means obedience to his fight against black money. He declared that this initiative would destroy all the illicit wealth of people. He claimed this would result in a big windfall to the treasury which would be used for the welfare of people of India.

None of this will happen. Narendra bin Tughlaq stands completely exposed, so exposed that even a week after the deadline, he has not let a thoroughly discredited and compromised RBI publish official figures of the amount of money that has returned to banks.

Jairam Ramesh is a Congress Rajya Sabha MP and a former Union Minister

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Published: 5 Jan 2017, 5:55 PM