No curing power in bitter medicine

Certain things are too obvious to demand any official confirmation. The misery caused by demonetisation was one such case. No single segment of the society was spared from the devastating experience brought about by Prime Minister Modi’s ill-fated decision. For the country’s farmers, who had been going from crisis to crisis, it proved to be the proverbial last straw. That this is no conjecture is proved by a report submitted by the Union Agriculture Ministry to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance.

The report said that millions of farmers were unable to buy seeds and fertilisers for their winter crops because of demonetisation. It pointed out that the demonetisation came at a time when farmers were engaged in either selling Kharif crops or sowing the Rabi crops. Both these operations needed huge amounts of cash, which demonetisation removed from the system. The National Seeds Corporation could not sell nearly 1.38 lakh quintals of wheat seeds because the farmers did not have cash. The sale failed to pick up even after the government allowed the use of old currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 for making payments.

The Parliamentary Committee on Finance is headed by Congress MP Veerappa Moily, which by itself is a cause of embarrassment for the government when it admits the serious hardships caused to the farm sector by demonetisation. The committee was also briefed by the ministries of Labour and Employment, and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises on the effect of demonetisation. It was an embarrassing coincidence that Modi was speaking at an election rally in Madhya Pradesh, where he justified resort to the ‘bitter medicine’ to fight rampant corruption by Congress during the UPA rule. Farmers in Madhya Pradesh, who have been repeatedly agitating over consistently aggravating farm distress and increasing farmer suicides, can only receive Modi’s justification with a pinch of salt.

It is curious that the Prime Minister has chosen to bring up the demonetisation issue while keeping mum on the subject ever since the realisation dawned on him and his government that demonetisation was a miserable failure, although they stopped short of owning up the mistake. Defence of what Modi thought would be a game changer and masterstroke, but turned out to be an unmitigated disaster was left to the second rung leaders, led by finance minister Arun Jaitley and the officials. But with elections approaching, Modi is seeking to make a pre-emptive move by bringing up the issue, probably to fend off criticism that demonetisation was, in fact, an indefensible fiasco. Modi knows fully well that If he failed to mention something that was introduced to the people as supreme sacrifice in the interest of fighting corruption, it would be taken as a total flop. Hence the belaboured effort to keep demonetisation in the picture.