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Demonetization: Did Narendra Modi make a fool of the country?

Just because we have no choice does not mean we need to bend backwards to please this government. Only if we question will they improve, only if they improve will they survive, and only if they survive this term will they get elected for next term

Wednesday September 13, 2017 12:07 PM, Ninad Vengurlekar

Modi Demonetization

I was taken over by our PM's audacity, his resolve, his emotional appeal, and then tears. He said give me 50 days or else persecute me. I thought, if the head of the country is so confident about what he is doing, obviously he knows something that his critics don't. My support to demonetization came from this trust in the PM. A billion people thought like me. I was not alone.

Ten months later, a friend told me, "Bewakoof banaya Modi ne." I said, "Shayad". And we both laughed at ourselves.

But did Modi make a fool of the country? Maybe he did. But he never intended to. He was genuine when he believed that there is black money that would be unearthed out of demonetization. It will break the backs of terror organisations. Corruption will be dealt a severe blow by killing the cash economy and digital transactions will be up. Yes, UP elections would also be on his mind.

But I was sure no sane person would put the entire country through discomfort, cause deaths, wipe out incomes of the poor, just to win UP.

This was my hunch. My personal reason for support to demonetization was because I genuinely believed that digital transactions would finish the cash economy.

But I was wrong and how.

The economic cost of demonetization was never thought through, especially on the poor. Millions lost their jobs, industries closed down, NPAs went up and banks came under undue pressure to recover SME loans. The spiral effect was probably never imagined to be so devastating.

Digital transactions are down. Corruption looks unconquered. Worst, all the so called "black money" has come back to the system. GDP is down to a historic low. And now RBI has stopped short of saying that demonetization was a dare gone horribly wrong.

I remembered an interview I shared a few months ago by Ashis Nandy, where he said that Modi has the right intent, but lacks imagination. Maybe he was right. Somewhere, between intent, imagination, and execution, this BJP government has realised the difference between perceptions and reality, sloganeering and delivery.

So what went wrong?

As I look back, I realise that BJP has made one cardinal mistake after coming to power. They changed the goalpost. They were voted to develop an economically strong India, but they ended up focusing on winning assembly elections.

Never in the history of India has a PM of a country been so liberally used to garner votes and win State elections. Between May 2014 and August 2017, assembly elections were fought in around 19 States of India. Assuming the PM spent an average of 20 days in planning and speaking at rallies per election, that totals up to 380 days, or 1 whole year. When 30% of a PM's time is spent in achieving personal goals, the country is bound to suffer.

Which is why when there were no great outcomes to showcase, the country was kept busy with issues like national anthem, cow protection, pakistan, religious supremacy, patriotism, missions and schemes of so called national importance, terror politics, and so on.

And now, when they still have 2 more years to deliver Acche Din, BJP has already launched a "A New India Mission" for 2017-22. But what about Acche Din? Isn't Acche Din and New India the same concepts in spirit? So have they pushed their promise of Acche Din by 3 more years? Why don't they tell us clearly?

Sometimes I feel this government suffers from a Bipolar Disorder. It hallucinates about an India it is incapable to deliver. It works very hard, but it cannot connect the dots to deliver the economic development it promised. Many a times, it creates audacious schemes and depends on nationalism and patriotism to deliver results. It believes that India's glorious 5000 year history will magically transform India's future.

For every criticism it is unable to counter, it uses fake accounts and paid media to drum up mass hysteria on social media and TV. Soldier sacrifices are used to counter political misdemeanors. Rational thinkers are called names like presstitutes, anti-national, pakistani agents, sickulars, and whatever else. My way or Highway. Which is why people like Khattar, Adityanath and Subramanian Swamy are celebrated in their regime, but Raghuram Rajan has to pack his bags and leave.

What I am apalled to see that even after 3 years, the political support base of Modi and BJP refuse to ask questions and justifies every wrong done by their favourite party. They are still living in the comforts of a fantasy called Acche Din.

Educated people who otherwise would not tolerate such non performance in their professional lives are finding creative excuses to justify the incompetency of their political icons. What they have essentially done in the past 3 years is to put the government in a comfort zone of mediocrity.

And it's not just in politics, mediocrity is the norm all over India. Republic and Zee News enjoy highest TRPs, Madhur Bhandarkar wins a Padma Shri, Pahlaj Nihalani becomes the CBFC Chief and is replaced by Acche Din creator Prasoon Joshi, Gajendra Chauhan has the time of his life as a FTII Chairman, academicians are talking of unscientific concepts of Hindu history, textbooks are being rewritten to erase Mughal history, a VC is recommending battle tanks to be installed in every university campus, gau rakshaks are being systematically shielded, stones are being laid at Ayodhya site against the law, news channels that speak against the government are being threatened, students are being sent to jail, fake news is celebrated and justified....the list is endless. And all this is happening with unstinted support of the BJP loyalists who defend anything and everything against the party they love.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand accurately describes the condition of this country under the BJP rule -

"People don't want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they'll bless and follow anyone who gives them a justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue - a highly intellectual virtue - out of what they know to be their sin, their weakness and their guilt. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don't know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear."

Hope things will change. There are two more years, and I still have hope in BJP and Modi to do a turnaround. Meanwhile, I refuse to sit tight and stop questioning.

Just because we have no choice does not mean we need to bend backwards to please this government. Only if we question will they improve, only if they improve will they survive, and only if they survive this term will they get elected for next term.

Trust me on this.

[Ninad Vengurlekar, who has 15 years in Education technology, is co-founder @Sling App, and has done his Masters in Education technology from Harvard.]

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