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Wednesday 3 June 2020

The Wise Statesman

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[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took arguably the biggest step ever in Indian history towards ending black money in our economy. The demonetisation of Rs 500/1000 notes is currently the most debated topic in the country. While President Pranab Mukherjee, SBI chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya, ICICI MD Chanda Kochhar, founder of Infosys Narayana Murthy and independent financial management firms of the world like Goldman Sachs have wholeheartedly supported the move, politicians on the other side like Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, etc have slammed the decision in the name of sympathising with ordinary citizens.

Ironically, some of these politicians project themselves as crusaders against corruption while others portray their pictures as messiahs of the poor. They fail to notice, deliberately or otherwise, the average citizen has got a premium — the premium of being honest. Most glaringly, the ostensible birth-child of a purported anti-corruption movement, Kejriwal, is opposing what the people are hailing as a ‘surgical strike’ on black money hoarders.

Sacks full of burnt 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee notes were found in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh.
Nothing but ashes of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes remain! This was discovered in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh

For the first time ever, daily wage earner is happy while every super rich man is on the verge of tears. One may ask a milkman, cab driver, auto-rickshaw driver, security guard or even the newspaper delivery boy; they all will speak in one voice — how this is an amazing move! They may have to face difficulties for a few days, but they are happy that their prime minister has hit the owners of sacks full of currency notes hard.

Leaving this never-ending debate aside, on 12 November, the prime minister said in his speech, “I have given you time till 30 December to exchange your notes; so do change your white income peacefully until then, but don’t think no new thing would come up after that to tackle the extra cunning wolves.” The crooks cannot take this man for granted. As much as they wish to see an end to his term, popular support for him continues to swell. For this constituency, one can be sure he will do more — in the remaining three years of the tenure of this government and beyond.

What these votaries want foremost from Modi is fast prosecution of the corrupt, leading to their conviction. Exclusive corruption-related fast track courts could be an idea to pre-empt the opposition’s possible refrain in 2019 that he had turned coruption into an electoral plank in 2014 only for votes, not for real action against them.

To this end, both cooperation and cleansing of the judiciary will be vital. After the rejection of the NJAC by the Supreme Court, judicial reforms have turned a difficult proposition. On the part of the legislature, making laws against corruption more stringent and effective is possible. Finally we need a legal environment that instils confidence in the honest and scares the daylights out of dubious players.

In future, the corrupt should not be able to walk free just by paying penalties. They should face terms in prison. This will go a long way in changing the Indian mindset.

Better penetration of e-banking is another imperative. Digital India is PM Modi’s dream child and he wants the majority of our economy to go cashless. In future, we may also see card swiping machines in mom-and-pop stores. We may be able to pay our monthly milk bill through cards. Even paying for a haircut through online wallets like PayTM, Freecharge or Oxygent should not be difficult. We may be able to schedule an appointment with the doctor online by paying his fees online.

While the name of the highest taxpayer is announced every year, the person must occupy a place of honour in society. This is where the people brought up with the general, Nehruvian-era impression that richness is bad must change.

On the one hand, taxes must be lowered for a better life of the people. On the other, the idea of paying income tax real time every week/month according to our income may be explored. This will help both employers and employees in better planning of their funds. Spreading the annual liability of tax thin across the year will further lessen the burden on them.

Modi is already working on bridging the gap of income divide between classes. Surely the statesman wouldn’t stop short of bringing in a revolution in the financial sector further to much bigger steps towards pollution control, literacy, gender equality, sanitisation, transportation, women’s safety, NSG & UN security council membership, uniform civil code, bribery elimination among others. But you cannot read his mind. While his supporters’ wishes are most likely to be granted, nobody other than him decides the time, place and method of the execution.

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