The momentous meeting that led to the momentous Demonetisation pieced together
Chennai, Nov 8: The announcement of Prime Minister on the night of November 8 and the subsequent steps that the Finance Ministry and the RBI took were verily a war on that part of economy that deals with black humour.
We at Crank’s News should know. Try as much as we did, despite our experience as long-standing silly clowns in the industry, we have not been able to match the efforts of the RBI and the Finance Ministry.
But thanks in the main to demonetisation, the country’s GDP in pointless parody has zoomed up to new highs. Every one, from the richest of rich to the poorest of poor — talk of making people self-sufficient — has made at least one joke on demonetisation.
In the event, we at Crank’s News decided to piece together the major motivation that ended up in demonetisation, and for this we spoke to many mandarins in the Ministry and the RBI, we also travelled through every corridor of the South Block and even visited the room where the historic decision was taken, which, inevitably, turned out to be a padded cell.
Sometime after the completion of two years in office by the NDA government, somewhere in August 2016, there was a terse message to all top officers in the Finance Ministry and the RBI. There was only a single-line text. It conveyed the urgency of the situation? Nah, it conveyed the urgency of the need to change the printer cartridge in the Ministry as the rest of the message was practically pale and unreadable.
Anyway, before long, the top officials were seated in front of the Prime Minister. The Finance Minister was also present. He had rushed in from his house. Tension was writ visibly on his face. That was because till he got a call from the PMO he had been playing with his grandchild who had playfully scrawled the word ‘tension’ on his face with a half-bent crayon.
The atmosphere was portentously heavy. In November, it’s always the case in Delhi. It’s the pollution, you stupid.
As ever, taking the initiative, the Prime Minister was the first to drink the water from a thick glass tumbler. His firm grip left a firmer fingerprint on the tumbler. He coughed unobtrusively, before he began, “Mitron…”, then smartly realising that this was not a platform speech, the Prime Minister quickly altered his line, “not Mitron…”
The Prime Minister for the next 10 minutes held forth passionately, without once looking at the notes assiduously prepared by his team, about — two insiders who were present in the meeting independently confirmed this to us — something. Both the insiders were, however, not able to put a finger on what was exactly conveyed as both had napped off.
But other sources, who by providence had remained awake, did say that the Prime Minister was extremely pained by the fact that the country’s people while talking about many subjects like films, sports, food, politics, were not interested in discussing economy.
The Prime Minister was right on the money. It is true that whenever a person talks of economy you feel like hitting him on the mouth. It is particularly the case whenever P Chidambaram speaks. But to be fair to Chidambaram, his smugness will make you feel like bashing him even if he is talking on other subjects.
Anyway, the Prime Minister said, for the country— *beep beep beep* Alert! Sub-editor has just inserted a cliche — ‘to march forward among the comity of nations’, its economy must be the talking point.
How do you get the people, even those who have no real economy to speak of, to speak of economy? The Prime Minister left the question dangling like the dreaded Damocles’ sword in the smoggy, stuffy air. The truth hit the room hard. Even those who had slumbered off reeled under the impact.
One top secretary in the Finance Ministry — he is from South India (probably from Chennai, according to the guess of a source at the meeting) — who is known to have an intelligent bent of mind, took the initiative and stood up to speak.
But the Prime Minister, who has no time for needless formalities, gestured him to sit and speak. The man, feeling at ease, took off: “for the people to talk of economy, they need to know economy. To understand economy — hurray to digital India! —- we can get people to download Byju’s learning app”.
“We can name the whole programme, the father of all initiatives, Bapp.”
The Prime minister smiled perfunctorily. The idea was not bad. It was very bad, actually. But the Prime Minister, the hard task master, was looking for something more.
He punched his right fist into his left palm in exasperation, three sources that this reporter spoke to said this, while another source said that it could have been his left fist into his right palm.
The Prime Minister pondered palpably for a few moments as the Finance Minister and others in the room looked in awe. They had never seen anyone ponder palpably.
And then he stood up. There was a purposeful mien to his posture now.
Without any preamble, he began, “you talk of food when you are hungry. You talk of films when you are bored. You mostly talk of anything when you don’t have it.”
“Which means…”, the Finance Minister hesitantly began, “we should not have any economy for people to talk about it?”
Before he could finish his putative question, the Prime Minister was already making his way to the exit. But the Prime Minister, before leaving the room turned back one final time at his Finance Minister and said, “exactly”, and was long gone without breaking his stride.
PS: Keeping his promise, in three months time, on a now famous November night, the Prime Minister put his mouth where the nation’s money was.