On Thursday, Manmohan Singh made a long-awaited speech in the Parliament on the issue of demonesation -- it was appreciated by one and all. He made his points without much drama and with much logic. So much so that even the BJP MPs long accustomed to not letting the opposition speak at all, held their collective breath. Perhaps, they knew that the ex-PM was making all the right points; perhaps they had no counter.
During Manmohan Singh's speech, PM Modi didn't smile neither did FM Arun Jaitley. They know a shit-storm when they see it and right now, they find themselves in the middle of a storm created by their woefully inadequate management.
Both Modi and Jaitley, one would hope, are also painfully aware that the onus to get things right rests on them. In fact, one hoped that the speech in Parliament made by a man (he is an ex-RBI governor after all) who knows his economic policies would spur them into action.
Instead, they reacted in the worst manner possible.
Modi left the house after the lunch without addressing the Rajya Sabha and late evening, we received yet another update in the ever-changing demonetisation scheme -- and one that reneged on another promise. This time, the government simply said that the exchange of scrapped notes will not longer be possible (Modi had earlier said that this would be possible till December 30). To borrow the immortal words of BJP President Amit Shah, this was another 'surgical strike.'
It was as epic an 'up yours' as there has ever been in the history of Indian politics. This is a man who was given a complete majority by the people of India, simply refusing to listen to the people of India; refusing to listen to sense. Strange are the ways of the democracy because we, as a people, can't do anything about it.
Bankers are saying only 25% of cash demand is being met, rating agency Moody's says the note ban will hit economic growth, banks in Mumbai and Delhi ran out of cash early on Thursday after funds were diverted to rural areas which were neglected early on, people have died and the Prime Minister is busy conducting 'fake' surveys on his app to convince himself that the people are with him.
All this would still be fine if we knew for sure that this would work. But far from it -- all this is based on estimates and guesses presently. And that is the worst part. They have clearly not thought this through. Their answer to every problem seems to be another 'if' loop. Modi's greatest success in this chaos has been that he has somehow managed to convince people that this is being done for them but he can't hide from that fact that it is being done is the worst manner possible.
But as this report in The Economic Times mentions, "the disruption to the economy will be such that there will be, possibly, not just no growth in this last quarter of the year but actually a shrinking of the economy."
A shrinking of the economy is never good especially when your country was growing at a pretty decent rate before that.
Modi and Jaitley clearly still believe their move will yield the desired results in the long run -- that is great... for them. But a move as disruptive as demonetisation needed to be thought through at a micro and macro level. Indeed, you try to leave nothing to chance. You obsess over the details, you make sure it works.
Instead, we have a random band-aid approach being taken by the government when right now, India needs a pretty major operation.
Modi woke up to people's troubles on Friday and made another feeble attempt to explain the mess: "Constitution and laws have been misused. There is very little criticism about the government's decision. There are many others who are criticising it saying that the government wasn't fully prepared. I don't think it is an issue that the government isn't prepared."
The statement shows not just a lack of preparation but also delusion. And that perhaps is the scariest aspect of demonetisation. There has been criticism from almost every quarter but Modi is choosing to ignore it all. In essence, he is telling everyone in the country and beyond that he knows better.
But it is not too late to set things right especially when you consider that roll back and they could start off by issuing just one set of concrete guidelines and not make up things as they go along. If nothing else, it would at least allow us to prepare for the worst.