THE LAST WORD : In chilling times

The surgical strike on black money in India and Donald Trump as President Elect of the USA has brought about a sense of insecurity in several ways

The last two weeks have seen more drama played out on the national and global stage than one has seen in a long time. For me, it all started the evening before the US Presidential polls, when I had just returned to Pune after a two week business trip to the US and UK and a short four day break in Iceland. Accepting an urgent request to do a live TV panel for a television channel to talk about the outlook for the US elections, I was all wired up at my home with the crew from the Bombay Outdoor Broadcasting unit in attendance at 8.00 pm. One is used to a minor delay in starting any TV interview, but 20 minutes after the appointed time, I called up the channel’s editor only to be told “Sorry Sir the Prime Minister is speaking to the nation”.

The “surgical strike” on black money definitely has very good intentions and may be one step that redefines the economic future of our country, but in the short term, the minimal time given for any preparations in the banking sector has caused substantial distress to the common man with serpentine lines in from of ATMs and banks all over the country. The political opponents of the move have chosen to hit out at the Government in predictable ways with firebrands like Mamata Bannerjee and Arvind Kejriwal spewing venom in the streets while seasoned debaters like Anand Sharma and Sitaram Yechuri choose to make sarcastic comments in both Houses of Parliament. Some of us who have eschewed the use of cash many years ago, had hardly a few high denomination notes to change at the Bank but the cash economy emerges at multiple levels of transactions in the country and it will probably take 50 days and more for normalcy to be restored.

All this begs the question that if our two largest markets, the US and UK, close their doors on immigrants, do we have the ability to create enough domestic jobs

In recent articles, columnists Swaminathan Aiyar and Amit Varma have pointed out many holes in the demonetisation approach. Calling the move “a blunder in every imaginable way”, Varma lists four reasons why black money does not really get addressed only six per cent of such money is kept in the form of cash, new notes which are on the way will only create a new conversion black market, the stocks of black money may be addressed but not the flow and over six hundred million Indians without bank accounts will now be queuing up to access their own money. Aiyar points out the “carnage occurring in the small finance sector”, arguing that in a country where 98 per cent of the hundred million shopkeepers deal in cash, the low business and lack of notes will create a payment crisis which would hit the NBFCs first and eventually the entire financial system. For many of us, who have believed in the intentions and the action orientation of PM Modi and team, this is a time of concern as we watch the queue drama play out on our television screens and hope that matters improve across the country soon!

On the global arena, the clearly unexpected election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the US and possibly the world left the two coasts of that country reeling in disbelief and shock. From protestors on the streets holding “Not my President” placards to the cast of the runaway Broadway hit “Hamilton” appealing to VP elect Pence to sustain a safe and equal America for all Americans, the concern and in some cases the despair of many in that country raises legitimate concerns on safety for every inhabitant of the US who is not a white Anglo Saxon. In India, some bold voices are pointing to the fact that the rhetoric of politicians is rarely carried forward in the acts of the elected after they assume office, but the early appointees to the new administration have certainly done little so far to assuage many early concerns. It has been quite a while since the President, Congress, Senate, State Governors and even a majority of the Supreme Court bench have all belonged to the same party and the world will watch with bated breath the developments in the US in addition to shivering over the ramifications of BREXIT.

In our own tech industry, which prides itself on our first generation of America goers settling down in that country and helping build some of the best software companies and the next generation working on dual shore models and plugging major gaps in skills availability in the USA, random statements like the recent one which complained about too many Asians in Silicon Valley will send sparks of righteous indignation flying from people are already American citizens and shivers down the spine of those who want to get that status one day. All this begs the question that if our two largest markets, the US and UK close their doors on immigrants, do we have the ability to create enough domestic jobs?

Clearly the world is going to see a lot of tensions in play in 2017. Hopefully it will at least be a happy new year for all the sufferers.

By Dr. Ganesh Natarajan