Demonetising Terror           

December 23, 2016, 3:04 pm
Demonetising Terror           
Demonetising Terror           

Demonetising Terror           

Associate Professor at Centre for Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi

Apart from arresting corruption we are also told demonetisation has also ‘broken the back’ of the terrorists and the Maoists. Demonetisation is now drawing a new equivalence between the fight against corruption and the global ‘war on terror’. The discourse of war on terror changed the legal discourse and the way the law was sought to be implemented and used to arrest crime and acts of terror. As part of the war on terror, various exceptional laws were passed globally and in India, beginning with the Patriotic Act in the US to TADA, POTA, and AFSPA in India. What is common to all of these is the institutionalisation of ‘criminalising intention’.

Conviction and state action were sought to be implemented not ‘merely’ on the basis of evidence and investigation but on the basis of the purported intention of those seen to be involved with terror activities. The larger justification was that the state cannot wait till the crimes take place to take action but needs ‘preventive strikes’ to close spaces available to such activities. This has had a popular reach, which was partly evident from the justification that was sought over the recent encounter of SIMI activists in Bhopal and the way the officers involved were felicitated by the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. One could not have waited till those who allegedly escaped the prison to commit the acts of terror for the State to act.

One possibly cannot wait even for them to be convicted as their ‘intention’ to produce terror in society in popular perception was a sufficient ground for the state to act in order to not compromise the larger security of its citizens. The arguments flow somewhat similar with the recent demonetisation. What is being assumed is that unless we prove ourselves innocent by depositing clean cash in the banks, we are all guilty of holding an intention that is corrupt. Since State cannot find evidence and cannot investigate who amongst us are the corrupt, black marketers and hoarding money, State is justified in assuming that the money we hold could be one earned through corrupt means.

In other words, from investigating and finding evidence against those who actually make black money state ‘distributes guilt’ amongst its ‘people’. Each one of us is at least potentially prone to corruption, and therefore the best way to make sure the economy is cleansed of black money is to push everyone into the process of proving themselves innocent. War on terror similarly declares everyone potentially guilty if some in a specific community or territory are guilty of acts of terror. Thus, every Muslim is potentially prone to be attracted to terrorism, as every tribal is prone to be attracted to Maoism.

‘Distribution of guilt’ in the entire community as a ‘suspect Muslim’ or a subversive tribal, in turn is necessary for the state to justify ‘collateral damage’ that the security forces now have come to believe will be inevitable in arresting terrorism and Maoism. Citizens and the common man and the poor and the farmers standing in long queues and going cashless, and the daily wage earner even going without food is the necessary collateral damage that is necessary for containing corruption.

The state has moved from ‘surgical strikes’ at the border to ‘carpet bombing’ of its own citizens. As displacement and dispossession are the unavoidable consequences of development, certain collateral damage to the tribals in fighting the Maoists and innocent Muslims in fighting Islamic terrorism is also inevitable, so is the suffering of the common people in re-hauling the system against corruption. Amit Shah in a recent interview on the television said when the system is changed there will be ‘jerks’. The collateral damage however needs to be understood as one made in the greater national interests.

Those questioning demonetisation are told they are tacitly supporting parallel economy. Very similar to those wanting to interrogate security forces and their excesses in security related operations be it in Kashmir or Chattisgarh are often told they are silently supporting the acts of terror by scaling down the morale of the security forces.

Further, the war on terror coincided with the rise of the neo-liberal economic order. The growing model of jobless growth, global migration, growing socio-economic inequalities, the stigma of poverty was sought to be countered by what one could refer to as ‘retributive mobility’.

Retributive action on some section of the society drawing battle lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ has been the story of populist mobilisations across the globe.

Whether it is between the White Americans and illegal immigrants and Muslims in the mobilisation as a run up to the election of Donald Trump in the US or the permanent othering of the Muslims in the rise of BJP and Modi in India, it is the retributive action against these groups that is sought as a solution to the problems plaguing the citizenry. It is a relief that provides momentary, if not a lasting mobility to the majority. On similar lines, demonetisation too is sought to provide a retributive relief to those suffering from economic and social marginalisation. It is an action against the unknown villain who has cornered public money.

We do not know the names or addresses of these individuals but we are told they are powerful who have accumulated this wealth for the last 70 years and demonetisation is supposed to siphon off all that they stored in their treasury, under their beds and farm houses. Who exactly are these powerful individuals is an unknown secret that would remain one and left to our imagination. It could be the industrialists, the politicians, and anyone we collectively hate. It is their unseen suffering that is sought to provide us with the relief and a sense of security and mobility. This is markedly different from the discourse of ‘ache din’ that promised jobs, control inflation, and provide for social welfare.

War on terror was more of a security and a legal battle (such as countering the imperatives of rule of law) that the state was fighting on behalf of its citizens; demonetisation is the social and economic corollary of that battle. It is at the crux, therefore that demonetisation is the populist version of translating the war on terror into the everyday `direct democracy` that India was collectively dreaming about.