I was in the UK attending a tourism meet when I raised a toast for Trump, not because I approved of his various indiscretions but because I was right. I was right in believing in June, just after Brexit, that Trump would prove all pollsters wrong. And he did. But what greatly enhanced the feel and the high of the bubbly on my tongue that evening was the announcement of demonetisation — the scrapping of the two highest denomination notes in India.
That move, I thought, required balls of steel and is the single biggest revolutionary step since the reforms of 1991.
When a large section of a nation's economy is unreported it will always create hyperinflation, and assets and commodities will be unaffordable to the common citizen.
The naysayers, most of them uneducated or politicians (read the Opposition), are crying hoarse over the move and marching around Parliament — over-amplifying the plight of the people facing some difficulties, and also reeling from the shock of seeing their ill-gotten wealth become worthless in a fraction of a second. Mark my words, not one of these protesters is worried about the poor farmer or the auto driver. Most of these drama masters are suddenly cashless at a time when there are assembly elections round the corner — and we all know elections in India cannot be fought without cash in hand.
As a salaried employee for the last 23 years, I haven't really understood what black money is. Never felt it, never touched it. But it made me angry, very angry, to see people around me earning less, paying a fraction of the income tax that I pay and enjoying a better lifestyle than I do, showing off cars that they don't deserve to drive or haven't earned with their hard work. These people work less than I do, they are less educated than I am, and they have seen no struggle in life. Paying cash for jewellery, land, holidays and cars had become de rigueur for this section, who flaunted their blatant disregard for the nation and the honest taxpayer. All thanks to a well-oiled machinery that generated a parallel economy — at least 20% of India's GDP (some say, it's closer to 50%).
How could we expect the government to develop infrastructure when massive amounts of money for public welfare would get siphoned off because of the fertile environment that accepts and breeds black money.
It's a sad state for any nation that ranks among the "global lasts" in ease of doing business.
Why? Because an honest entrepreneur cannot set up an enterprise without encountering the infinite hurdles of bureaucracy, archaic laws and unfriendly labour policies. At every step, businesses have to earmark up to 15% of their capital to grease the system to facilitate licenses and permissions. That's if one doesn't have to give 20% equity to the politician in power!
It's a sad state for any nation when a person walking on a footpath falls into a gutter and dies.
Why? Because the local area engineer has taken a bribe or allowed the contractor to go scot-free without really completing the job.
It's a sad state for any nation when banks lend to corporate entities without an adequate collateral cover and hundreds of billions of dollars of loans become delinquent.
Why? Because of a convenient relationship between bankers, politicians and unscrupulous entrepreneurs.
The list and arguments are long but the gist is clear. When a large section of a nation's economy is unreported — a shadow economy — it will always create hyperinflation, and assets and commodities will be unaffordable to the common citizen.
That extra push, that little reform, that fear of justice can make India the nation it was three centuries ago, when its GDP made up 25% of the world's GDP.
Modi has come so far. What he has done can cost him the elections in 2019 — the vote bank at the bottom of the pyramid is huge and today they are the ones who are in queues for hours trying to exchange a mere ₹2,000 (US$29). Modi must hold his ground and take this mission to a meaningful closure through a few simple steps:
Put income tax records and returns of every individual in the public domain. So that for every ₹1,000 spent beyond a person's means, there are a thousand eyes that observe and report.
Modi gave every Indian an opportunity to open a bank account, and this should be made compulsory by law. No one should be allowed to deposit or withdraw more than ₹2,000 ever.
Facilitate a digital environment of wallets and cash transfers. Whether one is buying a kilo of potatoes or an apartment worth US$10 million, choke the system to an extent that only a bank transfer or a digital payment works. Companies such as Paytm and MobiKwik can play a significant role in building a transparent nation.
Reduce banking transaction costs on credit/debit cards to a few basis points rather than the present few hundred basis points.
Make any cash more than a couple of thousands worthless. If you cannot transact in cash, you will not want to generate it.
Rather than reducing the size of the balance sheet of the central bank (RBI) to the extent of the monies collected, spend this money on building roads and airports for the next 20 years and not for the next two — which, in the present scheme, by the time they are commissioned are already out of capacity.
Create a central registry of all land records and link transactions to Aadhaar and PAN to reflect in Form 26 AS.
Above all, rudimentary as it may sound, pass a motion in Parliament wherein financial misappropriation is treated as severely as rape or murder in the eyes of law.
Aristotle aptly said about 2,300 years ago, "Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all."
Let the fear of law and judiciary percolate in the mind of every Indian citizen.
I wasn't the biggest fan of Prime Minister Modi and believed that I had strong arguments in disagreeing with the rhetoric of his vision for India and his actions thereof. But today I believe just that extra push, just that little reform, just that fear of God and justice, can set India on a path to being the nation that it was three centuries ago, when its GDP made up 25% of the world's GDP.
Mr Modi I am changing my opinion and I am falling in love with you, you are just a few steps away. Hold your courage of conviction in what you are doing.
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