Monday, November 14, 2016

Surgical Strikes against ‘Parallel economy’ : North East Militants, others "left high and dry"

(Guest Column)

This blog piece is from Swati Deb on the impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's unprecedented currency ban and fight against black money and terror funding

Indians by nature find it distasteful to admit that anything has gone wrong. Thus drastic changes to the status quo as a phenomenon are anti-thesis to basic Indianness. This applies to the people of north east also – where either life so far has been preferred to be ‘Lahe Lahe (take it easy)’ in Assam or indifference – with the local maxim (“Na jaane ho – How do I know”) as in Nagaland.

So in this land of status- quoists – it was taken for granted that corruption and black money are part of life. But courage is perhaps not the mere absence of fear. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has again displayed the mastery over it. It’s a true gamble.

As a hardliner ‘Hindutva’ leader and successful Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi has been always known for his “decisiveness”.  He also has a knack of making most of his decisions powerful weaponry by mixing the same with good timing and unconventional style. But besides ‘decisiveness’, despite that time and again he has been a loner, Modi has displayed some ‘courage’. This synthesis of “courage and decisiveness” often leads to a few drastic outcomes – good, bad and somewhat grey.
Of all his major decisions so far as Indian Prime Minister, the decision to outlaw currency notes worth Rs1000 and Rs 500 with immediate effect from Nov 8-9 (2016) mid-night by Modi would be regarded as the most significant game-changer.

“These notes will not be acceptable for transactions from midnight onwards. The five hundred and thousand rupee notes hoarded by anti-national and anti-social elements will become just worthless pieces of paper,” Modi said in his rare and hurriedly convened television address to the nation on Tuesday evening.

His admirers have called it “surgical strikes” against Black money. He said the move was to “break the grip of corruption and black money”. All these actually linked to the fake currency and terror funding. In effect, in the wilds of north east – where too besides ‘corruption’ – cash dealings are way of life – the Modi Sarkar has dealt the severest blow to the numerous insurgent groups those who survive and thrive with the ‘extortion’ industry.  
'Guest writer' 
According to French scholar and columnist Christophe Jaffrelot,  
as Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi was perhaps “less a politician than a manager”. 
In the context of Modi’s latest moves to fight black money menace, thus it can be safely said that his government has acted against the prevailing intellectual consensus and middle class indifference. Prime Minister has acted more like a super-CEO. True, the courageous moves have always fascinated Modi. Even unlike his one-time mentor LK Advani, in the past too Modi did not pretend to be a ‘secular’. 

In fact, he has never been shy of his hardcore Hindutva background. This has fetched him dividends.

Now what lies ahead both in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh or states like Manipur remains to be seen. But the impact of ‘surgical strikes’ against fake currency and black money would certainly hit the north east militant groups rather adversely.
There are ample reasons for this. Firstly, banking system came to some of these ethnic tribal communities only as a post-Independence phenomenon. Originally, the tribal groups like Nagas believed in barter system. 
Old timers still recall the hill native tribes used to come down to valleys and exchanged chicken, raw meat, vegetables and fruits with salt and some money and rice with the plains dwellers in Assam. 
But when the hard cash or money came in to the system, it virtually came with a vengeance into the political system. Thus the electoral politics was slowly polluted. Wealth and Wine became two major weaknesses of the locals and the same has been well exploited by Indian system and intelligence sleuths.Moreover, use of swipe machines and debit or credit cards are still not popular enough in the north east. 

The menace of greed for money – precisely the easy cash flow - passed onto other areas of tribal life including the insurgents quite swiftly. In states like Tripura, the fascination for money even sought to legitimize ‘kidnapping’ of senior government officials and traders by militant groups. Extortions slowly became an order of the day in Manipur, Assam and Nagaland.

But as the Biblical belief goes, the ill-gotten money – thanks to the pro-Hindutva leader - has been now rendered “worthless piece of papers”.
Often we get to hear that for simpleton tribals and others in the region, the issues of corruption or greed revolve around the traditional ‘chicken and egg’ theory – on what came first. Many locals often also relate corruption in northeast as ‘a menace imported from India’. But can people be trapped into a gimmick of easy money, if they do not want to be?
In fact, the ‘love or greed’ for money have led to metamorphosis among some militant groups. Not long ago in hubs like Dimapur, from profit oriented EXTORTIONS, a few militant groups also wanted to have a monopoly control on business of most saleable items like chicken and mushroom. For them, Modi’s demonetizing decisions are nothing less than ‘surgical strikes’. For them, the decision could not have come as a most effective method of leaving some people high and dry.

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