Modi was heard thundering away at 8 pm on November 8, while announcing his government's demonetisation initiative to the nation. At 7.30 pm on December 31, he was somewhat bleating with efforts to keep a brave face. Elements of stubbornness, vanity and autocracy in his personality often make it impossible for Modi to accept the reality of the total failure of his ill-conceived policy. On New Year's Eve, however, his body language and the content of his speech indicated that this realisation had dawned on the Prime Minister.
Soul-stirring was absent from Modi’s speech. The speech lacked cerebral inputs. The whole country was waiting eagerly to watch the biggest show of the year, but it proved an empty vessel. It was not what the nation expected after such a massive disruption caused by the government's demonetisation measure. Modi’s honey tongue was unable to generate any positive impact on the disturbed psyche of the masses who now have realised that how the great cry about withdrawing currency did not yield any wool. The experiment Modi imposed on the common man was not even a nine days' wonder.
The welfare schemes Modi announced have nothing new in them and are a drop in the ocean. His efforts at repackaging the social schemes which are already in place with few modifications are not what people of India had been expecting from their Prime Minister after going through the unprecedented lifetime humiliation, the dark shadow of which is still looming large on their heads. Modi did not clarify in his speech that how much his brainwave has adversely affected the foreign portfolio investments, the index of industrial production, credit growth, gross non-performing assets situation and exports.
Now when 50 days that Modi sought from the nation are over, let the people of India demand a referendum on demonetisation. All the efforts to remonetise the economy within the stipulated period have failed, and citizens are still waiting for their money in long queues before the banks. If 2017 is beginning with the deep imprints of what the last 53 days of 2016 witnessed and there seems no change in the situation for some more months, the sufferers must get the right to exercise their choice to say Yes or No to a policy that was so callously implemented. The sun which has risen on the economic horizon of 2017 is muddy, surrounded by scary dark clouds, and with its energy squeezed. Those who failed to make an adequate assessment of the situation and instead of realising their blunder still trying to justify it must not be allowed to go scot-free.
A state is always equipped with numerous weapons to control the insanity of its citizens. But if a state wigs out what can its citizens do? The only way they can remove the set of people misgoverning the nation is on the ballot. When elections are not near, and there is no provision to recall the elected representatives in our Constitution, a referendum could be one such remedy that could give some relief to a bleeding nation. The following days are bound to helplessly witness a sliding economy, increasing unemployment, decreasing growth in all sectors and a stressed society.
Nothing could have been more disastrous than this single step of compelling 1.25 billion people of India to sigh for their own hard earned money. Modi is under the impression that both—his government and the people—are on the same side in this battle, but the outcome of forthcoming elections in five states will tell him how correct he is. Though the Panchayat elections are not contested on party symbols, everyone in every village knows about the leanings the winner has with a certain political party and the massive loss Bharatiya Janata Party faced in the elections of Panchayat heads in Gujarat last week should be enough to open the eyes of Modi and his man Friday Amit Shah, the party president.
The biggest danger before the country in coming days would be tax terrorism. Modi’s rhetoric of teaching a lesson to the dishonest has armed tax authorities with a killing instinct that is going to be more harassing for honest people than the real culprits. The country has bitter experience of the discretionary behaviour of the tax officials, and in the absence of any administrative reforms, Prime Minister’s repeated lessons might instigate dishonest officials to spread their wings. The revival of trust in the currency, banks and the government’s intentions at large must be on priority than creating an atmosphere of fear, terror, and uncertainty. The sooner Modi realises this, the better for him and the country.
India ultimately belongs to its people. It is not anyone’s fiefdom. Therefore, no government or Prime Minister is allowed to act on whims. The politics of polarisation and alienation, the distortion of the economy, blatantly ignoring the privacy laws, curbing the independence of citizens and destroying the foundations of institutions will unseat India from its global position. The challenges of 2017 include the safeguarding of the fundamental principles that course through the veins of this nation. No one, however big he or she may be, should be given a free hand to make India a guinea pig to conduct experiments on. Bowing down to someone’s whims or ignorance is not what we deserve. This is the time to define ourselves and to refuse to fall victims. India cannot disappoint its future generations by allowing a situation that is going to swallow the fruits of achievements earned with great efforts in past decades.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. Views expressed are strictly personal.)