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Demonetisation: Why We Need To Take Some Pain To Rebuild Our Nation

15/11/2016 4:17 PM IST | Updated 17/11/2016 7:04 PM IST
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A man waits in a queue to exchange old currency notes in Kolkata. (Photo by Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Prime Minister's recent announcement to demonetise higher value notes overnight has created a frenzy in India. The government has given 50 days to the people to exchange their currency and the last few days have seen serpentine queues at banks and ATMs. While the move has created a lot of excitement among a large section of the people, it has also caused inconveniences to many others, especially the elderly and those who belong to lower income groups.

Since independence, we have all focused on ourselves and abused our nation as much as possible.

For people who are feeling inconvenienced, I empathise with you, even if I do not experience the extent of your trouble. It is important for the governments to ensure that the barriers to participation are low and that people understand the vision. But, ultimately, is this a good decision or not? In my opinion, while it is a tough decision, it is a good one.

Those who say this is a bad decision give the following reasons: 1. The bigwigs who hold the black money would have already been informed by the highest sources. 2. People who don't have bank accounts will suffer. 3. People have invested their black money in assets such as gold, land etc.

Each one of these reasons is loaded with so many assumptions. Even if this decision is a bad one, we will know only in hindsight and not right now, so close to its launch. So, why not let the government try something new? Even if it fails, we would have learned something new instead of maintaining the status quo.

Another question worth asking is this: Are we ready to endure some inconvenience in the interest of the nation? I am surprised that the answer is "no" in many cases. This is largely due to a reactionary, short-term mindset.

Countries don't develop overnight. I have seen from childhood how governments have given freebies and made people lazy.

Countries don't develop overnight. I have seen from childhood how governments have given freebies and made people lazy. I come from a state in India where every household was given a free TV and people happily took it. Governments, for long, have disempowered people so that they do not ask questions — one way to keep citizens happy is to employ dubious measures, such as giving them caste-based privileges and distributing freebies. This way, vote-banks are kept safe.

In Switzerland, people recently rejected a referendum where the government wanted to give every citizen 2,500 Swiss francs as a living allowance. It shows the character of the people. In all developed countries, people work a little harder in the form of following the rules, keeping their surroundings clean etc; they take some pain for their country. Development needs to happen in the mind before it manifests in the physical world. In our country, it works in the opposite way — physical assets are built in the form of airports, malls, highways and people still behave in the same old fashion.

In all the developed countries, people work a little harder in the form of following the rules, keeping their surroundings clean etc; they take some pain for their country.

It is high time that our leaders start helping people to take pain for their country. I was very impressed with the odd-even scheme launched by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal earlier this year. More than the scheme, his ability to do the right thing against all odds was what impressed me. It made people take some individual pain so that they could reduce their collective pain. Most citizens also responded positively, which is commendable.

Since independence, we have all focused on ourselves and abused our nation as much as possible. Our rivers are dirty (when they are not empty), our roads are dirty, our cities are full of pollution — we are pursuing a selfish path, while forgetting our society and country. When my Japanese friend visited my home in Madurai 10 years back, he was shocked to see that our house was so clean. I asked him what was surprising about the house being clean. He said, "On my way to your home from the station, it was so dirty and I expected your house also to be very dirty." It was an eye-opener for me.

I was very impressed with the odd-even scheme launched by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal earlier this year. More than the scheme, his ability to do the right thing against all odds was what impressed me.

Our politicians are getting better and it is we the people who need to get better now. It is heartening to see that leaders like Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal are pushing the boundaries through their entrepreneurial approaches. They are willing to fail and learn in a complex world where everything is criticised. For long, our people have engaged only from the galleries — and in the world of technology, we have even more sophisticated tools like Facebook to enable us to be active onlookers without feeling any pain. When soldiers are dying on the battlefield, we spread hate messages on social media, thus increasing the risk for them even further.

Our country people used non-violence even when they were beaten in their quest to achieve freedom. Our ability to take pain is better than any other nation's. It is time we take some pain and some responsibility towards nation-building.

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