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Dear Prime Minister,

As I sat glued to the TV on the night of 8th November, I was thrilled. Here is a bold decision taken by a bold leader.

To tell you the truth, I am not a fan of your party or the extended so called Sangh Parivar. During the elections, I knew the Congress party was corrupt, useless and blindly following the Gandhis. However, your and your party’s track record on the treatment meted out to minorities was a bigger danger to our country than uselessness and corruption in my opinion. So I made it a point to become one of the millions of likeminded people who vigorously hurled social media missiles at you.

But, the day you were elected, you became my Prime Minister, legitimately elected by the people of India and I decided to suspend judgement and give you my support. I must say that overall, the direction seemed to be positive and focused on development. My biggest concern has been that you have really made no effort to condemn, rebuke or rein in the fringe elements that went berserk on those allegedly consuming beef. Your ‘supporters’ also seemed to brook no opposition to you whatsoever, however much this opposition was issue based. To them, you seemed like the tenth avatar of Vishnu, who could do no wrong and any criticism to you was blasphemy. They also started fuelling a brand of hypernationalism which I thought would be a danger to the country in the long run. When the surgical strike happened, I was proud and delighted. Here is a strong prime minister, finally showing the enemies what we are capable of doing.

And then the demonetization happened. I called up my father and a few of my friends to exclaim what a great move this was. You see, I have never made a single rupee in black and have meticulously paid tax on every rupee I earned. When I see those who make much more than me avoid paying any tax, my blood used to boil. I know that almost the entire middle class feel this way and instantly you became a rock star.

However, the details started unfurling only over the next few days. I was aghast. I have handled many a complex project in my career. The one thing that we always try to do before we launch a new project or process is do a comprehensive FMEA (Failure Mode Effects Analysis). We try and think through all the potential pitfalls of a new process or project and devise ways to counter each of them or avoid them. What you were launching was a million times more complex than any project I have done. Now I realise the most basic pitfalls have not been identified let alone thought through. You have led our countrymen into a most perilous and hazardous journey with your eyes and ears firmly closed.

To take a step back, I believe you had these following reasons for the demonetization in order of priority

  1. To reduce the budget deficit by about 3-5 lac crores so that you have enough budget balance to give huge sops to the lower economic strata to be able to swing the next election. Also to have enough money to follow your development agenda (you and the RBI governor – both smart Gujaratis figured this out. I mean it as a compliment to your sharp economic acumen)
  1. To project the image of a strong leader who adheres to his election promise. This move would make you a god among the middle class.
  1. To completely stymie the opposition parties just before some crucial state elections, while your party had ample advance warning.
  1. To crush the terrorists and the troublemakers in Kashmir by choking off their funding.
  1. To actually impact the black money being hoarded.

I believe you would definitely achieve 4. and to some extent 5. I am sure you have already achieved 2. and 3. I guess where you went wrong was that you had so much belief in your own infallibility that you decided you don’t need anyone to advice you. I am saying this, because if a larger set of people had spent enough time in thinking through the pitfalls, many of the disasters we have witnessed over the last ten days wouldn’t have been there. It was your job to know the following…

  1. 40% of ATMs were/are non-functional. What stopped you from launching a drive 6 months back to get all ATMs up and running under the guise of some initiative? The pressure would have been half of what it is today.
  2. There aren’t nearly, nearly, nearly enough Rs.100 notes to go around. What stopped you from instructing RBI to suck out all Rs.500 notes from the market and replacing with Rs.100 notes over the last 6 months? 6 lac crores is the Rs.500 value in circulation. Rs.1 lac crore being pulled out every month may not have been very noticeable. (I know my friends who are devoted to you will immediately say- but this was not planned 6 months back- it was only planned last month. I hope that is not true and that this humongous exercise was not launched as a knee jerk action)
  3. The 2000 and new 500 rupee notes are of a different size and hence need reconfiguration of 200,000 ATMs – a task that will take a minimum of 15 days. How on earth did we miss that?
  4. 50% of the villages in the country don’t even have a post office, let alone ATMs or banks – imagine the number of man-days wasted and the hardship for the people of these far-flung locations. Again, 6 months was enough to start an initiative such as a mobile bank or bank outleach.
  5. It is wedding season and people have no money to get married
  6. It is crop season and farmers have no money to buy seeds
  7. It would take two weeks to get out the first set of new 500s out
  8. Not everyone knows Hindi and not everyone has the time to watch your speeches. Did you not realize that many of the poor would start panicking, not fully understanding what is happening and giving off their hard earned money at huge discounts to the sharks? Did you think of reading out FAQs and dos and don’ts in every language in every possible medium to reach at least 95% of the population? TV, Radio, loudspeaker announcements in jeeps in remote villages? (You do this for elections to save your seats. Why not for saving the common man?)

I can almost see my friends who are your devotees jumping up to defend you – the whole idea was to have absolute secrecy and thus it was not shared with or discussed with others. Really? You took this massive national make-or-break decision without discussing this with a set of advisors who should have done their number crunching and shown you how much hardship the common man would go through? You thought you were uniquely qualified to make this decision for the nation based on your gut and the nods from 2-3 of your yes-men? If that was the case, and absolute secrecy from even those who could give you balanced advice was necessary to launch the scheme, you should not have done it. No man, however amazingly intelligent he is, should take a decision of this magnitude on his own.

So today, thanks to your overconfidence and over-reliance on your smartness, the country is going through the biggest crisis it has faced after the partition. It is by no means anywhere near over yet.

Oh, you have done a great job in milking the situation to its utmost. Playing the ‘solidarity with the soldiers who are dying at the LOC’ card, turning up the emotional quotient by breaking into tears, dragging your poor mom to a bank for a photo op etc.

But what I would have expected you to do, like a man with a 56” chest is to face the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and engage with the other parties. Except Mamata, most of them actually gave a grudging approval to the plan on day 1 and 2, till they realised, like me, that there has been hardly any thinking through.

Now that the die is cast and we are up to our necks in the brown stuff, there is only one thing to do- grit our teeth and see the damn thing through. A continuous status update from you to the nation every day would be helpful- like a war room communication. Keep the people engaged and informed. (like for example on when the Rs.500 notes are reaching)

Lastly, I hope the move succeeds beyond even your wildest imagination and with minimum casualties. Because we Indians deserve a break. And remember, FMEA is a time-tested tool. It will ensure that personal biases and limited knowledge is not what drives important decisions, but collective wisdom of a strong core team. Do use it next time when you want to implement one of your creative ideas. And I say this without a trace of sarcasm.

Comments ( 4 )

      • Neeraj says:

        Undoubtedly A good write-up all points made clear and concerns seems justified at 1st. Let me tell you I’m not so called Bhakt neither I voted the party in power, but as far as demonetization move is concerned, I’m totally supporting and we all work in private big firms who have created BIG jargon to evaluate, understand, minimise risk, after effects and theoretically we have described every letter so effectively that it seems there will be no problem after implementation but what about failure of same big business houses, why Donald Trump won the election irrespective of all big surveys against him. My opinion is we can’t predict outcome of masses and especially if it’s much diversed community like India. Regarding preparations and accommodation of resources 6 months before, we all understand if Govt. start taking big steps and measures with financial instruments, all big boys with deep black-pockets have highly educated and smart economists working and brain storming 24*7 and it will be no big deal to predict next move and safeguard their akas in advance. Something must remain surprise and it is no surprise that we already had multiple struggles and if they add one more for greater good, in waiting for some more.

      • ramgopal vallath says:

        Dear Neeraj,

        I also hope that the nation pulls through this with minimal negative impact. Only time will tell.

      • Naveen says:

        RamG well written but why assume that no FMEA was done.?Absolute secrecy was paramount and if the mitigation measure of this analysis was comprising secrecy there was no choice really. As Gurumurthy and others have said, there was no perfect way to execute such a large operation

      • ramgopal vallath says:

        Thanks Naveen. I, like you, hope that all goes well and that there are minimal casualties.

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