Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his government's decision to demonetise ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes, politicians from the ruling government as well as from the Opposition have been busy defending and damning it respectively.
From Finance Minister Arun Jaitley calling it a "minor inconvenience" to PM Modi laughing at the trials of the common people faced with severe cash crunch during the wedding season, the responses have ranged from ironic to insensitive. (The prime minister later made amends for sniggering at the public by shedding tears on camera.)
Sweeping executive decisions that affect public life are not unknown in the history of Indian politics. The anarchy that demonetisation has unleashed, causing death and untold suffering, has been compared, quite rightly so, to the dark days of the Emergency imposed by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, when severe restrictions on public and press freedoms prevailed. But the strangest response came from one of Modi's own Cabinet members, Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu.
In an impassioned article in The Indian Express this morning, Naidu drew parallels between Modi's revolutionary bid to clean up the Indian economy and Cultural Revolution -- a term that harks back to one of the bloodiest phases of modern history.
Predictably, just when observers of Indian politics think irony has died, it somehow manages to resurrect itself from the ashes like a Phoenix and take flight into the realm of the absurd.
The Cultural Revolution, which was launched in 1966 by Chairman Mao Zedong of the Communist Party of China, is remembered as an example of extreme dictatorship, resulting in the death of anything between 500,000 and 2 million people.
Tomes have been written documenting the horrors of Mao's grand plan to reinvent society by hammering into ordinary citizens the first principles of his peculiar variety of socialism. Driven by the ardour of his vision, the notorious Red Guards and a large section of the students took up arms against the bourgeoisie, to clean up the evils of capitalism, but eventually pushed the entire population into hunger, stagnation and poverty. At the peak of the unrest, at least 1,800 people died in Beijing in the months of August and September 1966 alone.
From 1968 onward, Mao tried to reign in the escalating violence, but by then it had gone on for far too long to be successfully contained. The official handbook of the Cultural Revolution -- popularly called the "Little Red Book" -- was in wide circulation, with over a billion copies printed in the 1960s. A reign of terror had taken hold of the country well and truly.
Predictably, just when observers of Indian politics think irony has died another day, it somehow manages to resurrect itself from the ashes like a Phoenix and take flight into the realm of the absurd.
Although the revolution saw its course long back, it ended, officially, with Mao's death in 1976, a decade after it had begun. Its aftermaths are still felt, through forms of oppression that have morphed over the years and continue to blight China's human rights records till date.
To invoke this grisly, undemocratic and violently anti-people moment from the dark depths of world history in order to justify a seemingly pro-people policy decision makes the I&B minister's elaborate justification appear shockingly ill-informed.
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