The year 2016 ringed in with the news of the Chinese Yuan being devalued by the Government sending tremors and deflationary shocks across the globe. 12 months down, no year in the recent past has debated upon the idea of currency as much as 2016. A year that made the currency a recurring dining table conversation.
Derived from the Latin term ‘curraunt’ meaning ‘in circulation’, the currency has raised debates relating to its very etymology, purpose and the social contract that it signifies. The hottest debate of the season kickstarted on November 8 with the NaMo juggernaut announcing a move to scrap the much-used Rs 1000 and Rs 500 legal tender. The move was termed the first among many to wipe out black money and the parallel illegal economy.
The Indian junta, irrespective of caste and class queued up to exchange familiar hues for fresh new notes. The rumours of the demonetisation move being introduced to tackle the increasing number of illegal Indian rupee printing presses in Pakistan is reminiscent of the Nazi ‘Operation Bernhard’, a conspiracy to destabilise the British economy by flooding Britain with counterfeit Pounds creating situations of hyper-inflation. The Bernhard notes, considered the world’s most accurate counterfeit notes, intended to be dropped from aircrafts was ultimately dropped on account of lack of airplanes!
2016 didn’t have to wait much for another topic of discussion regarding legal tender. The Venezuelan government headed by Nicolas Maduro announced its plan to scrap the much used 100 Bolivar to fight Colombian mafia and the country’s 3 digit inflation rates. The currency is now in ‘free fall’ and the government in political ‘limbo’. It required the news of Arcos Dorados, the world’s biggest Mcdonalds franchise, forced to stop serving Big Mac due to the unavailability of a middle bun to put the food crisis into global headlines. With the 100 Bolivar unofficially worth only 2 cents, the citizens are literally forced to carry bags than wallets to the shops. Citizens, unable to buy even toilet paper, protested for the ouster of President Maduro.
Such a large-scale revolt against a Head of State for a currency related issue is not new to world politics. Just 28 years ago, we witnessed the world famous 8888 uprising in Burma against the Head of State Ne Win who decided to cancel all currency notes indivisible by 9, his lucky number. The move threw out of gear thousands of students of the Rangoon University whose savings for paying the fees went down the drain with the government replacing 100, 75, 35 and 25 kyat notes with fresh 45 and 90 kyat notes.
The currency issue has popped up in another manner in Iran with Rouhani planning a grand renaming ceremony for their currency. The government is now planning to change the name of the currency back to ‘Toman’ from ‘Rial’ to ‘suit public convenience’. With the official currency being Rial and locals still calling and using it as ‘Toman’ with differential exchange rates, the government has been forced to sit down and sort out the currency issue, an irritant in attracting foreign investment to the country.
The Occidental nations are also facing a currency crisis especially Britain where the issue has taken up more of a cultural and religious tone. With evidence of the new five-pound note containing traces of beef tallow coming up, the Bank of England is facing pressure from vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains to ban the note. It is actually a moment of historical déjà vu as it was on finding traces of this very beef and pork tallow in the cartridges of the new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle musket did the Hindu and Muslim sepoys revolt ultimately leading to the ‘Great Indian Revolt of 1857’, the first large-scale mutiny against the rapine, pillage and crimes inflicted by the Company upon India. History does repeat itself.
2016 has definitely shown the impact of currency on realpolitik. With both Pakistan and Australia moving proposals on demonetising Rs 5000and $100 notes respectively, the party has only started. 2017 is truly going to see the power of the currency in setting the world political and economical high table.