The forward movement of the clock is generally used to convey a sense of progression. Does this mean that turning the hands of the clock back — metaphorically speaking — is equivalent to regression? The query is not meant for idle speculation. Nor has such reflection been occasioned by the present proceedings at the court. The merit of such contemplation goes deeper. Responding to the Supreme Court’s enquiry as to whether the Narendra Modi government had held consultations with the Central Board of the Reserve Bank of India before it agreed to unleash demonetisation, the attorney-general, R. Venkataramani, stated that no tangible relief can be granted by putting the clock back. In a sense, the attorney-general’s logic is irrefutable. The damage wreaked by demonetisation on the nation’s informal economy as well as on specific demographics — the poor and the labouring classes — cannot be undone. Research suggests that impoverished Indians witnessed a drop of 20 percentage points in their income and a concomitant shrinkage in employment, which, in turn, adversely affected the quality of their lives. Even deaths were reported as a result of what some critics said was a financial disaster. But in a democracy, policy decisions by the government must be subjected to scrutiny — even in hindsight. This is consistent with the demands of holding a government accountable. So the hands of the clock must turn — back — if only to assess the effectiveness of this radical financial experiment. Six years after demonetisation, the evidence of its failure is considerable. None of its intended goals, including the flushing out of black money from the system, was met. Democratic ethos demands an explanation.
Incidentally, the past has a special flavour in an India under the Bharatiya Janata Party’s thumb. The BJP would like the country to believe that under its watch India is being returned to past glories. Indeed, the wilful distortions of the past have been craftily designed to meet political and ideological goals. Why, then, is the government nervous about turning back the hands of time on the issue of demonetisation? Is this because in this instance, Mr Modi and his regime had not exactly covered itself in glory?