“Demonetisation was monumentally mismanaged and is an organised loot and legalised plunder”, said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister Narendra Modi sat listening to him yesterday.
Modi had finally made an appearance in Parliament. As Dr Singh led the Opposition charge, one of the senior-most members of the Modi Cabinet was delighted and said, “beware the wrath of a patient man. Watching Modi today, it was as if he was shaken up by a sheep”. This is an interesting indication of how upset the Bharatiya Janata Party and Modi’s Cabinet is with the hastily implemented demonetisation which was decided without any consultation with the party, Cabinet or allies.
In fact, the chatter in the BJP is on how much roles have reversed at the exact mid-point of the Modi term. Modi’s app-based self-appraisal where he awarded the note ban drive a 92 per cent approval rating attracted censure from all leaders including those of the BJP. Lalu Prasad Yadav sarcastically said in central hall, “Modijee aap UP ka vote bhi ismey karva gai. Revolutionary leader hai. (Modi will also get votes in UP by the app. He’s a revolutionary leader)”. BJP leaders were less sanguine.
In fact, Modi’s mood swings post-demonetisation ranging from euphoria, dramatic theatrics, fearful denunciations and tears have perturbed BJP leaders. Minutes before the Parliament board met, he was seen laughing with Home Minister, Rajnath Singh. The moment the cameras were allowed in, he got teary-eyed.
After Manmohan Singh’s attack yesterday, an apparently angry Modi decided to cancel the over the counter exchange of notes he had himself promised earlier. This makes it nearly 17 bewildering tweaks to the terribly implemented demonetisation. Each day brings fresh misery and fresh tweaks while the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Urijit Patel is conspicuous by his absence after one appearance. Baba Ramdev is more visible than Patel and has given us deep insights such as, “BJP is full of unmarried men so they never realised the impact of demonetisation”. This is unprecedented. The Reserve Bank of India enjoys constitutionally protected autonomy and India has never had an invisible Central banker.
So why did Modi unleash this havoc? Sources point to the hearing in the Supreme Court of the Birla-Sahara diaries which were being monitored by the intelligence agencies as one of the causes. The SC will take a view on these today and Modi is mentioned in both of them. The other more fundamental reason is Modi’s desire to recast the BJP’s voter base from a party of small traders to that of the genuinely deprived people. Modi has been watching the Dalit movement grow in Gujarat with genuine unease and feels that the BJP needs to grow its voter base.
Modi even has the RSS’ tacit sanction for this. As a minister raised a timid objection to demonetisation saying that the “baniya (the caste which has always supported BJP) were the naya Musalmaan of the BJP and would not support it”, Modi allegedly grew livid and said, “I want BJP to be the party of the poor people. How long will you people rest on traditional support and vote banks?”
One of the shrewdest modern day politicians, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has understood this and extended support to demonetisation. But, as each day’s vacillations have shown us, it appears that Modi and Amit Shah did not factor in the systematic lethargy and the lack of preparations which have now caused the economy to brake.
According to a BJP leader who has been side-lined by the duo, “Modi thought it was a coup, a surgical strike against the Opposition. His bank nationalisation and privy purse moment like Mrs Indira Gandhi. From suit boot ki Sarkar he was recasting himself as the protector of the poor and the scourge of black money”. Adds the leader, “as usual Modi got carried away by his own hype. He thinks he’s larger than life. Mrs Gandhi confined suffering to the princes and those affected by bank nationalisation, Modi has ensured the poor suffer”.
Modi’s focus group for taking decisions is confined to two - Shah and Jaitley. While Shah has limited administrative experience as Modi’s Home Minister in Gujarat, Jaitley - one of India’s richest lawyers - has limited political understanding, hence the slew of unpopular measures such as inking people who line up to change notes. The only election Jaitley has ever won was when he became the Delhi University student president. He even suffered a historic defeat from Amritsar during the Modi wave in the only election he has contested. BJP leaders say his real constituency is the media, which he seems to show great understanding of.
The day Modi announced demonetisation, Jaitley attended a birthday party of a lawyer in a five star hotel. His cronies wanted all those present to clap when he entered to mark his historic move as Finance Minister. The typical Delhi crowd obliged but, according to a guest who was present, “Jaitley looked unsure. He did not exude the body language of a man who had made history”.
Will demonetisation impact Modi’s electoral chances? Only if the Opposition parties put up a joint front. Opposition unity is the only thing that actually affects the BJP at the hustings as we saw in the Bihar results. In the meantime, while the Opposition figures out its act, we can break out our popcorn and wait with trepidation for the next twist in the demonetisation tale.
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Feature Image Source: Reuters