The demonetization of high value currency by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has certainly rekindled hope among Indians that the Modi government could take earnest steps to root out corruption in India.
While the demonetization announcement has created some genuine temporary problems for the common man, particularly daily wage earners, street vendors etc., there is considerable understanding and appreciation among the cross section of Indians in the middle and lower income group about the strong measure initiated, that can go a long way in rooting out black money and curbing corruption in India.
People have responded positively by putting up with the discomforts, which reveals the concern of the common man in India about the widespread corruption and urgent need to put it down at any cost and their willingness to extend support to the anti corruption measures of Modi government.
What will be Mr. Modi’s next step?
Now, people wonder as to what will be the next step that Mr. Modi would initiate to carry on the fight against corruption. People recall that in 1978 there was demonetization by the then Morarji Desai government which caused some immediate sensation which was short lived and there was no visible change in the situation for the better. There is anxiety among people that the present exercise of Mr. Modi should not fall in the same pattern as it happened after the demonetization in 1978.
Modi government has initiated some meaningful steps to eliminate corruption and black money in India in the last 30 months, which include steps to open bank account to large section of poor people in the country, enlisting more than 90% of the people as Aadhaar card holders and linking Aadhaar card to various schemes as well as income tax department etc. to ensure transparency. But, such move has really not made any big dent in the extent of corruption in the country at various levels so far.
The problem for Mr. Modi in his fight against corruption is that considerable section of tax officials at various level serving in the government of India and state governments including income tax department, central excise, sales tax department are corrupt themselves.
In the past, several senior officials in these department have been caught red handed while indulging in corrupt activities and some of them have been punished and quite a number of them have escaped punishment by exploiting the loophole in the law. The question is how can Mr. Modi catch the tax evaders and put down corruption, when several of his tax officials themselves are corrupt.
While the demonetization move have caught the imagination of the people and people want Mr. Modi to initiate more anti corruption measures, Mr. Modi can take the anti corruption crusade to logical end only if he has strong force of tax officials who are committed to the cause of anti corruption and would be willing to put forth their honest efforts in discharging their responsibilities.
Obviously, Mr. Modi is aware of this disturbing scenario as he himself made the observation in his nation wide address on 8th November, stating “Which honest citizen would not be pained by reports of crores worth of currency notes stashed under the beds of government officers?”
Challenge ahead of Mr. Modi
It is not clear as to how Mr. Modi would weed out the corrupt and errant tax officials and restore the tax departments with the character that is required, to enable Modi government to carry on with the anti corruption measures. So far, there is no indication that any fear has been created in the officials who indulge in corruption.
It appears that the corruption system has become fool proof in the tax departments and lengthens over long chain from top to bottom. Breaking the chain in a big country like India where there is considerable collusion between corrupt politicians, business men and officials is no easy task.
While Mr. Modi has just demonetized the high value currency and created hopes among the people, the next step of cleansing the tax departments of corrupt officials, which is a precondition for his anti-corruption crusade to succeed, does not seem to be an easy task. There is the grim challenge facing Mr. Modi in the coming days.