Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Demonetisation has failed, Modi will too

In the next two & a half years, rest of his mask will slip.

By: Salman Nizami

Have you noticed the bitterness with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been speaking at public meetings of late, including the one in Kanpur in poll bound Uttar Pradesh? The lively, interactive speeches, loaded with blunt humour, with which the PM pulled crowds have given way to scornful outbursts suggesting "I know it all" and "you know nothing" supremacism, as people question his rationale for demonetisation. Political scientists say when a leader turns bitter at his people, rebukes them for failing to laud his initiatives, and demands deference instead of offering arguments, his fall is near.

You don't need a bunch of economists or opposition leaders to tell you demonetisation has backfired. Modi and Amit Shah's demeanour tell it all. Newspapers few days back were littered with reports how Shah lost his cool when BJP's top state leaders apprised him about the seething public mood due to funds crunch. This is an illustration he and his master want to live in a make-believe world where there is all validation and no question. When rulers act so, it shows that they have not only lost the plot, but there is no option left for redemption. 

Let us quickly look at how Modi's tall talk on demonetisation fell flat soon after November 8 when it was announced. His apologists claimed that with one masterstroke, he rendered all unaccounted cash as illegal tender. In reality, almost all of the Rs 15 lakh crore cash in denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 came back into the formal banking system. 

The Finance Minister, shocked at this development, gave hurried statement assuring transferring money to bank will not whiten them. The tax department will make scrupulous investigations and levy fines in fraudulent cases. Really? Thirty percent of the sanctioned 70,000 posts in the Income Tax department are lying vacant. Where is the manpower to do this mammoth scrutiny? Are there enough attorneys to take the black sheep to task? 

Understandably, the government scrambled to divert the public attention towards cashless economy, not a part of the original discourse on 8 November. But in a country where only 53% of the population has a bank account, cashless transactions is an utopian concept. 'Modi Antoniatte', a sobriquiet the PM has earned in the social media of late, remains convinced of his assertion though. 

The government claimed demonetisation will stop terror funding. The deadly Nagrota attacks of 29 November, and the Pampore ambush that followed, made mockery of this claim. Naively, the Centre told the people digitalisation will curb black money. Examples suggested otherwise. About 75% of Kenya's adult population make online transactions for all payments yet the country makes headlines for corruption. Other African countries such as Zimbabwe and Tanzania, too, score poor on transparency index despite high digital transaction.

What is further ironical, the Modi government is not even prepared to metamorphose India's economy into a cashless one. The Digital India programme is languishing. Of the 100,000 village panchayats planned to be connected to countrywide optical fibre cable network by March 2016, only 8000 have been actually connected. The target for March 2017 is a mammoth 2.5 lakh village panchayats, a day dream given the current pace.

The problem with this government is the over, over confidence of the Prime Minister. The megalomaniac PM, who created record of sorts by wearing a pin stripe suit with his name stitched 10,000 time on it in January 2015, is convinced that noise can make up for substance. His debatable achievements as Gujarat Chief Minister brought him to the limelight, as his team worked overnight to stifle voices that claimed majority of the investments he was credited to have brought to Gujarat never went beyond the paperwork. He secured the country’s top job in May 2014 riding high on a web of deceitful social media campaign in which, among the countless lies, Switzerland's roads were notoriously shown as Gujarat's roads.

But jumlas come with an expiry date. Now that he is Prime Minister, people are getting disenchanted with all talk and no show. He talked about Swachh Bharat, but the country's lanes remained littered. He talked about Namami Gange, but the holy water remained dirt filled. He talked about Yoga, but health spending was swiftly cut down. He postured about surgical strikes, but record 64 soldiers were killed in 2016, the highest in six years. 

In a stark contrast to the noisy Modi, Manmohan Singh was a doer of action. His SEZ act of 2005 stepped up foreign investment manifold. From rank 5 in mobile penetration when Vajpayee quitted office, India jumped three places by middle of Dr Singh's term and became second only to China. By expanding the budget of mid day meal and emboldening Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, UPA government ensured a giant leap in gross enrolment ratio. NREGA rained jobs. Revolutionary steps in the form of ADHAR, Land Acquisition Act, GST bill were envisaged despite BJP creating hurdles. And it may surprise many, it was UPA's Nirmal Bharat programme and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission that provided the framework for sanitation and urbanisation. When Modi talks of Swachh Bharat and Smart City, he is only reading out from UPA's books, after conveniently changing its cover.

And that sums it all. A great orator and a great lifter of ideas can create a buzz. But he cannot sustain it. In the next two and a half years, rest of his mask will slip.

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