By ROSHAN B
November 8 2016 was a date which penetrated every border on this globe; defined, undefined, physical or imaginary. It was the date which showed the world how wrong democracy can really go, how the borders weren’t between continents, nations, states or cities but in the mind of the people. Two incidents happened at the opposite ends of the globe 12 hours apart from each other, they weren’t connected to each other but strangely they were. To talk about this historic day, let’s begin by looking at the two countries: India, a developing nation considered the world’s largest democracy and the United States of America, the world’s second largest democracy. In India the Prime minister of India announced a revolutionary move to remove 86% of the money in circulation by “Demonetizing the existing 500 and 1000 rupee notes and in America a Washington outsider, Donald Trump beat a former secretary of State and first Lady Hillary Clinton to clinch the presidency. Both these nations today face a large scale divide, that many call a battle between the left and the right which in fact, is a far deeper issue. Both the developments were meant to be the people’s movement to fight the oligarchs and the corrupt and divulge power back to the masses.
In effect, Trump’s presidency and the approval of demonetization represented a certain mirror of modern society which almost no academic or sociologist has been able to decipher. A billionaire oligarch who exploits the people and a failed economic plan which left the poor cash strapped hungry and unemployed should have ordinarily earned the ire and resentment of the masses; but it is this financially disadvantaged and socially backward class of people who support what the liberal intellectual conceives as anti-people. To understand the movement one must try to understand how the common man conceived both to come down from the privileged lives to view it from their perspective.
FIGHTING CORRUPTION- OR SO THE BELIEF
Both the Trump phenomenon and Demonetization gained popular approval from the fact that both were supposed to fight corruption at a large scale. To the people, a Billionaire who bought a yacht from the Sultan of Brunei and openly spoke of sexually assaulting women was a better choice than a former Secretary of State who used private emails and was subjected to investigation for the same. The people of India saw the enemy in the people who hoarded cash in their homes and refused to pay them fair wages for a day of labour not realizing the actual exploiters who owned real truckloads safely stack their currency in the comfort of tax-havens in Europe and the Caribbean. Trump using the rhetoric of ‘lock her up’ was almost eerily similar to demonetization’s claim to fight black money. Neither jailing a politician nor banning notes will help usher change unless the system which created them is revamped on a large scale but this wasn’t something the supporters of either wanted to acknowledge.
HATRED FOR INTELLECTUALS
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for popular support for Trump and Demonetization is the masses believing that intellectuals and the academic class have inevitably become anti-people. That the people need a mass movement to which they can relate to, to them a Yale educated lawyer and former First lady cum Secretary of state was an enemy just like the snooty English speaking economists who have kept them poor all through these years.
THE REVOLUTION MYTH
Revolution becomes legitimate only when the people support it. This is the support every leader seeks. Demonetization was supposed to be one such revolution which stripped the rich and the powerful of their source of oppression and bring them into the streets. For days people lined up in ATMs and the people gave up their constitutional rights believing that this would help in their long term goals towards ‘Vikas’ and ‘Acche Din’. In the US which has the world’s third largest population, too much power was centered around the Washington elite who undermined democracy and exploited the people, so the solution was to elect an outsider who would ‘drain the swamp’ and take power back to the people. Perhaps the biggest selling point of both Trump and demonetization would be the way both were sold to the people and the people connected to it. In a country like India where over 80% live on less than 2$ a day most people never actually understood black money from any angle other than the stacks of money in their landlords house. That stack was now gone and the master was in turmoil, they had won the battle accordingly, but no one understood that the master got his money after a few months and chose to save the little he lost by cutting their pay and jobs. Similarly a billionaire real estate baron who was supposed to change the system only ended up creating a bigger oligarchy in the white house with more bankers from wall street and pro gun lobbyists infesting the Oval office while bringing down healthcare and environmental regulations. But the phenomenon was what drove both these movements, people believing an outsider would bring jobs and change while fighting terror, crime and illegal migrants and another billion believing that them giving up their fundamental rights and standing in mile long queues whilst starving and suffering was about fighting corruption and being part of a revolution.
Demonetization would never have happened if the IT department and RBI had been proper, if cash had been restricted, if labour norms had been followed, if tax authorities simply did their jobs. But yet without changing any of those, simply removing the cash only allowed certain people to hoard more wealth in the form of bank officials and cash middle men. Those who stood in the ATM queues were only the middle class and the poor with some cash and not the ultra rich who sat in the comfort of their homes and allowed middle men to do their jobs.
In a way, the UP election results after demonetization and the victory of Trump are both the fantasies of revolution and change which people choose to bask in without an actual nuanced understanding of the system or how it works. Democracy has simply become a joke in both cases, but people believe that time shall heal and change. That no other government ever did anything to fight corruption the way demonetization did, that economics and planning were a farce. A hundred people died due to demonetization, the economy stands in tatters and large scale money transactions are back in full flow; whilst American politics has hit a new low point after Trump. But no one seems to consider these points with supporters only asking for us to give the leaders a chance and let them try their magic spells while the economy worsens and more skeletons continue to tumble out of their own cupboards.
[The Opinion expressed in this article is that of the author. TCO does not take any responsibility for the opinion so expressed.]
THE AUTHOR IS A CORPORATE COUNSEL WITH CK BIRLA GROUP.