Demonetization: Someone in the Modi government is reading Catch-22

Years ago, when Mumbai’s buses were draped in ‘India Shining’ wraps, I used to travel every morning on the upper deck of a Route-203 bus from Juhu beach to Andheri west. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 kept me company on the short journey. It was a hilarious story and I laughed aloud at times, disregarding other passengers’ strange glances.

I always thought Heller wrote the book straight, and then made half the sentences contrary on purpose to make the story run unpredictably from page to page. Now I think someone in the government or RBI — or whoever else has scripted India’s demonetization — is probably reading Catch-22.

Take the latest order on depositing the scrapped high-value notes. I can see the wisdom of telling people to deposit all their cash in one go. I am sure it will reduce the rush in banks, but from where does this order draw legitimacy?

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There are many people with ‘white’ cash who have delayed depositing it in the hope that the rush will lessen before the December 30 deadline. It was a deadline set by the Prime Minister himself on November 8. Now, the government turns around and says depositors will have to explain in the presence of two bank officials why they did not deposit their old money sooner.

The government set a goalpost, and then shifted it. Doesn’t that erode faith in the government and lend credence to all kinds of rumors?

It is just like the commanding officers in Catch-22 who kept increasing the number of missions their pilots had to fly before they went home:

forty-missions-is-all-you-have-to-fly-as-far-as-27th-air-force-headquarters-is-concerned-yossarian-was-jubilant-then-i-can-go-home-right-ive-got-48

Just to remind you, the government went back on the cash withdrawal limits it had set — we ought to have been withdrawing at least Rs 4,000 a day from ATMs now. It scrapped the currency exchange facility suddenly, after toying with the idea to mark depositors with indelible ink. It has set some bizarre gender-wise rules for holding jewellery. None of which sounds like the “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” mantra of two years ago.

Are demonetization’s objectives being met? What objectives, what demonetization, as the characters in Catch-22 would have asked:

forty-missions-is-all-you-have-to-fly-as-far-as-27th-air-force-headquarters-is-concerned-yossarian-was-jubilant-then-i-can-go-home-right-ive-got-48

Funny script.

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