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PM doesn’t know it, the joke’s on us

Anand Sahay is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
Published : Feb 13, 2017, 2:31 am IST
Updated : Feb 13, 2017, 6:40 am IST

The RBI was asked to sign on the dotted line on demonetisation, leaving a stain on the autonomy of the country’s monetary authority.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)

In the present election season, as a fifth of the country considers what works for it and what doesn’t, we should remember that it was only two and a half years ago that the country witnessed a sweeping wave of “Modi love”, even a Modi-mania. This was why the party of the present Prime Minister was able to produce a first clear majority in the Lok Sabha in a quarter century on the strength of a mere 31 per cent of the vote.

This had shocked purists and critics of the BJP. But this was evidence that the Modi-wave was concentrated. Ordinary people were out in astonishing numbers to vote in the guy they wanted. They thought — very wrongly, it turns out — he would be the answer to their prayers, that he would take them to shore. The election had been made American-style presidential in style through Narendra Modi’s tactical cleverness, and he triumphed — and how.

A very different mood has settled on the country since then. Mr Modi’s buzz words have produced mostly vapour though they go by energising names such as “surgical strike” and “demonetisation” as he dons his hat, brimming with “nationalist pride”, and goes dancing to places like Madison Square Garden.

The words made commonplace by Mr Modi have produced no dividend for the people. Go ask the farmers. Ask the workers, in agriculture and in cities. Ask the businessman and the industrialist — big or small. But most of all, ask the unemployed, whose lines have grown, not shortened.

Ask not just the students but also their parents, whatever their caste, class, religion or region. You may wonder where love has gone — in such a short space of time.

On the one hand, there are these days the PM’s “Mann ki Baat”. It comes down like hard rain one Sunday every month. On the other, there is the government’s own data. In spirit, the two are not in accord — they suggest very different things. The first tries hard to ignite hope, the second shows the PM the mirror.

But he is not fazed. It is a poor joke on the country when he repeats at the drop of the RSS cap that we are the world’s fastest growing major economy. To achieve this we have changed definitions and the way the national income is calculated. And we refer to a time when world petroleum prices were at a historical low. But now they are climbing, and there has been demonetisation, to make matters worse. But those in authority patter on.

The people are tiring of these games, however. It is time one of the two stopped. Either the Sunday sermon should be switched off by DD and AIR or the government should end the colonial-era practice of publishing official data. This is easily done. All it needs is a rousing speech invoking nationalism or patriotism and the customary reference to two greats — Swami Vivekananda and Sardar Patel, besides Manu Smriti and the Samahitas.

If Parliament insists on seeing the information to be able to judge the government’s performance in line with its constitutional mandate, let the government offer sheer propaganda — data so tweaked and on such a massive scale as to become “alternative facts” of the kind that may encourage even US President Donald Trump’s hard-boiled advisers to turn to New Delhi for advice.

All this belongs to the higher realms. To the ordinary Indian, the pitch of life in India has been on a disheartening descent path since Mr Modi’s arrival on the scene. This can hardly be a surprise as the PM himself appears determined to lower the tone each time he wades into public territory through his speeches or his Twitter account, and those who differ with him are lampooned, blackmailed and threatened.

Major elections have not been won as a result, however. But the burning rage under Mr Modi’s monogrammed coat that cost `10 lakhs (too bad it is in a museum now) has led the PM to practically call his predecessor corrupt on the floor of Parliament through the analogy of the raincoat man. The deep complexes Mr Modi appears to harbour have made him call Rahul Gandhi names that hardly redound to the credit of the PM of India. We have hit the level of the street.

What this “chai-khana” raucousness brings in Uttar Pradesh is of course unknown, but the feedback from his own party and the RSS can hardly elate him. Manmohan Singh and Mr Gandhi should not lose heart. All they need to do is consult their colleagues in the upper echelons of the BJP to know the mood in the saffron camp. It is not very different from the one in the Congress and the country. The Modi “fatigue” has spread.

The PM’s colleagues are getting tired of having to lower their gaze if they must speak in Cabinet meetings. Some throw up their hands in despair. Everyone is hoping that BJP president Amit Shah, fetched to the scene by Mr Modi to manage the party for him but no one’s favourite, goes back to Gujarat. But deliverance can only come from a certain kind of result in UP. The BJP’s first rung is praying for deliverance. The second rung too. Ditto the farmers and the workers.

A good result for them may brighten their mood. But the country will take time to recover. The story so far is that every word spoken from on high and the major policies undertaken have been a cruel joke on the people. “Achche din” and the promise of `15 lakhs in everyone’s bank account from the black wealth recouped cause amusement, but sheathe a frustration. “Demonetisation” and “surgical strike” bring on derision. “Swachh Bharat” causes a guffaw.

It is no secret that our institutions are being eroded. The RBI was asked to sign on the dotted line on demonetisation, leaving a stain on the autonomy of the country’s monetary authority. A few months ago, the PM told a meeting of the country’s top judges, presided over by the Chief Justice of India, that cases were piling up in courts because judges took holidays and didn’t work hard. Unworthy individuals have been appointed at valued institutions like the IITs, JNU, ICHR and Nalanda University to advance dubious causes. But the PM still thinks that India is winning.

Tags: rbi, demonetisation, narendra modi, prime minister