By Vijay Sanghvi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised economists by suddenly going in for drastic demonetization with the declared objective of extracting black money. Not only he was disappointed as the demonetized high value currency notes amounted to only 1.37 per cent did not come back to the Reserve Bank but the country was disappointed by his drastic measure that had put the economy in the retardation process.
A higher price was paid by the reputation of Indians. It stood maligned. The failure to extract black wealth accorded the opportunity to the government to express its happiness that its fears came out unfounded as there was no back money in the country to be found even by drastic measure. It was a great opportunity to reestablish reputation of Indians as people. It was essential to reset the Indian economy on path to recovery and faster movement forward.
A gentle man began to walk in my office in Delhi with tales of atrocities on Indian labour in the Middle East. He continued to come for nearly a year and I did not inquire into his purpose as he used to flatter me with praise of my writings in my Gujarati paper as well as in English newspapers. His theme song was Indian government need to take measures to ensure immigrants did not suffer. Hence their passports need to be stamped with information relayed to Indian embassies.
After Indira Gandhi affected a change in her cabinet and shifted Dalbir Singh from labour ministry to bring in PA Sangma in 1982, he suddenly stopped coming. In two months Sangma got the scheme he was talking about implemented. Workers, mostly illiterates were forced to get their passport stamped. They had to hire agents to get their pass ports stamped. New trade of middle men flourished but it slowed down flow of Indian workers with increase in flow from Bangladesh. It made me curious to find out antecedents of the man who used to visit me for virtually a year. To my horror I discovered he was working as India agent for the South Korean firm that had grabbed contract for export of workers from Bangladesh. Unless flow from India was reduced, it could not have pushed men from Bangladesh to the Middle East.
The man may have discovered on his inquiries that Dalbir Singh was a good friend of mine and hence I may convince him to implement what he wanted to reduce flow of Indian workers to the Mideast. I did not. He may have approached other sources. The practice of stamping passport of workers as immigration needs continued till the Vajpayee government took over. Sahib Singh Verma, labour minister gave me patient hearing to scrap the need as useless appendage that had led to rampant corruption. This episode sheds light on how foreign agents work to influence the Indian systems.