Georgy Kuruvila Roy
What if the real tragedy of the demonetization drive is not our wait for the introduction and regular circulation of new notes so that our life can go back to normal, but the terrifying realization that such notes are going to change the form of money exchange? Doesn’t Paytm’s ad-line ‘Atm nahin paytm karo’ capture our predicament perfectly?
The point of the cashless economy is not that we are going to abolish money but that money is going to change its form: from paper to digital technology. Within this formal change of the concept of money there is another more important change of form that money undergoes: from a public commodity to a private one. In other words if the paper form of money was owned by the state the digital form will be owned by private companies like Paytm, Oxygen etc.
What are the consequences of this change of form from public to private? For every exchange or transfer of money we have to pay money to private companies because the social authority that validates this exchange is not a public one but a private one. In other words our hard earned money is in the hands of private companies and to spend that we have to pay money to these companies. Earlier with the so called free market reforms if we had lost our roads and other public sector companies, with demonetization we lose the most sublime resource of our sovereign state: Money.
Thus isn’t this the real tragedy of the demonetization drive? Once this comes into being along with our expenses on toll, rising prices of food and everyday articles, we have one more added expense: pay money to exchange our money, for money can no more be said to be ours (public’s), it is either his or hers.
What is the solution? With all the devastating consequences of this particular drive the state did make a few pronouncements that are significant to us who belong to the left. Firstly, the state said that we don’t have to pay toll on highways till next month. Secondly, we don’t have to pay money for non parent bank ATM withdrawals for one month. Doesn’t these proposals remind us of the erstwhile welfare state measures which we communists and social democrats had given up as impossible? The paradox of the entire situation is clearly visible; it is the same state which advocates free market capitalism that brought out these too. Isn’t there a catch here? Modi only gives these welfare benefits for one month, we should struggle to make it permanent, precisely because it will reduce price rise. The same should be done with the digital form of money too, because what is at stake here is not just price rise but the sovereignty of our nation state. By transforming money into a private form hasn’t the most beloved son of mother India betrayed her? This is precisely why we should struggle for our commons for it transforms our lives and also it is a struggle for our sovereignty against capitalism’s increasingly widening tentacles: for money is a public property and not your private fantasy: if we don’t engage in this public which we ourselves had given up we will be lost and would deserve to be lost, as Slavoj Zizek says.
Georgy Kuruvila Roy is pursuing PhD in CSSS, Kolkata.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.