A doctor friend will occasionally send a desperate SMS asking for clarity on the Narendra Modi government’s track record. He says he can’t make sense of the truth, flooded as he is with WhatsApp forwards, news, views and chatter that is so polarized that it looks like the messages are talking about two different countries. The next 10 months will see this divide get sharper and nastier as we roll up to Elections 2019.
The first thing we need to do when we enter this debate is to discard evidence by anecdote. For every anecdote from one side of the debate, the other side can give two more. My anecdote will always be more real to me than your story. Let’s stay with numbers. But numbers can also be hotly debated—depending on whether the GDP number is up or down, the validity of the data has been discarded or accepted. While numbers like the GDP or inflation or even manufacturing growth or investment are subject to a methodology which can be open to debate, the one number we can’t either fix or ignore is the Sensex, the broad market index made up of 30 companies. The Sensex seems to like it when Modi Sarkar wins elections. Look how it rose and then fell as the Karnataka elections changed colour from saffron to a muddled something.
The news of the appointment of Subhash Chandra Khuntia as the insurance regulator on 1 May 2018 came as a surprise to most financial sector watchers. Of the eight people shortlisted for the final round of screening, Khuntia was the only bureaucrat, the rest were insurance industry insiders, including the serving Life Insurance Corp. of India chairman V.K. Sharma, New India Assurance chairman and managing director (CMD) G. Srinivasan, member Life at Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (Irdai) Nilesh Sathe, and K. Sanath Kumar, CMD, National Insurance. The choice of a person with limited domain knowledge over others who have spent their entire careers working in this very technical industry was the surprise. Remember that it took an earlier outsider, J. Hari Narayan, the first three years of his five-year term to understand the sector. In fact, by the time he demitted office, he understood the sector so well that it went against the then government’s own agenda to allow him to continue. So what has gone into the decision to appoint an outsider as the head of a regulatory body that watches over Rs28 trillion of household savings and over Rs2.2 trillion of general insurance money?
If the Uttar Pradesh election was the referendum on demonetisation (demo), as was being said before the recent Assembly election results, then the answer from the people is clear. In a column I wrote (you can read it at: bit.ly/2mmdYeZ) immediately after 8 November, the day demo was announced, I had flagged the risk, both personal and political, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was taking by putting the average citizen and the traditional voter base of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—the traders—through pain. Despite predictions at that time, the nation did not break into riots, the economy did not collapse, stock markets remained buoyant and the global view on the future of the Indian economy did not change.
Two weeks after the sudden death of a bulk of Indian currency notes, the most obvious panic seems to be over but the elephant of demonetisation is yet to work its way through the system. The entire process will take months before the python digests the elephant.
Arguments, edits, opeds, conversations, debates and social media are sharply divided on what the currency replacement will achieve. I remain in the ‘it’s good for the country’ side of the debate and want to address some of the arguments against demonetisation.
The sudden shock of the currency ban and an unexpected election result in the US caused markets to open 6% down on 9 November. But a day later, the story has changed—all markets are up. So why are stock markets surging? Why are bond markets happy? Why are real estate magnates walking like zombies? What lies ahead for your money?
Readers of this column are hopefully smug with their financial plans and asset allocation in place and are not wasting time wondering if stocks are a good ‘bet’. But let’s deconstruct why markets are up on Day 2 of the #currencyban. Day 0 was 8 November, when Prime Minister Modi made his #currencyban address to the nation.
Some of us in India have paid, what I call, the ‘honesty tax’ for decades. Our money is salaried, there is nothing on top, we pay our taxes, keep our accounts clean, pay for large spends by card, do real estate deals in white and become the guys who obey traffic signals while others in bigger cars zoom away with a smirk. We pull out our cards and carry home our small shopping bag. The guy in the next aisle pulls out a brick of cash and thumbs out a lakh in notes to take home the high-value gadget. We drive our Maruti home with the EMI (equated monthly instalment) sitting in the backseat, the luxury SUV guy comes with a sack of cash and scrapes our car out of his way. We wait to buy a house with white money, don’t get the choice set, pay more and end up feeling like losers for being honest.
he chaos has begun. The phone calls, email, smses, whatsapp have all begun to ping and ring – average people calling to ask if their currency is useless now.
Rumours are beginning to spread. The reason for the panic is the move by the Narendra Modi government to demonetise the Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes. What this means is that starting midnight 8 November all the currency notes you hold in Rs500 and Rs1000 are worth nothing. But remember that all the currency notes you hold in your bank area still worth the money they denote.
Just that you wont get Rs500 notes from the ATM, but Rs100 and Rs50 notes.