The BJP's spin on demonetisation was similar to the Panchtantra fable of a Brahmin and his calf. Like the credulous Brahmin who abandoned his gift cow when thugs fooled him by calling it a 'bakra', the BJP government managed to convince many Indians that demonetisation was a financial miracle instead of a disaster through the legerdemain by repeatedly hailing it as a masterstroke.
But, as the Panchtantra fable tells us, a calf can't become a billy goat just because a few men conspired to call it one. Though the naive may believe the spin, not everyone will get misled.
So, one by one, the sceptics have started speaking out, pointing at demonetisation as exactly the point at which the India growth story took a U-turn, calling at a veritable "suicide". Raghuram Rajan has spoken. Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha has shot his darts. And now, it is Arun Shourie's turn to call out demonetisation for what it was -- a quirky idea that derailed the economy.
It was an "idiotic jolt", the largest biggest money laundering scheme to convert black money into white, the former minister told NDTV. "Which argument (offered by the government in defence of demonetisation) today survives? Black money? All of it turned white. Terrorism? Terrorists are still coming into India. At the end they have nothing to say," he added.
There was a time not so long ago when critics found it difficult to convince people that demonetisation was a Tughlaqi firman both in theory and practice. The primary reason for it was the unassailable belief among the majority of Indians that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could do nothing wrong. His credibility and the reputation of being the Indian avatar of Midas who could turn everything he touched into gold made it difficult to convince supporters that demonetisation was flawed and could lead to long-term paralysis of the Indian economy. Even though people faced numerous hardships due to the sudden ban on currency notes, they stood firmly behind Modi, believing if he had decided to demonetise, it would definitely lead to something good.
But, there is a reason why critics have found their voice again. Their criticism is now backed by solid data generated by government institutions. And thus, instead of rhetoric or anti-Modi bias, it sounds more and more credible.
As Shourie argued, who can deny that the GDP has fallen to 5.7 percent, the lowest in three years? Who can argue that factory production grew just 1.2 percent in April-July compared to around nine percent two years ago? And, as the Indian Express points out, the economy is taking jobs down with it, leaving behind a trail of layoffs in every sector.
It is obvious from data and reports from institutions like the RBI that the economy and job market are both in distress. This has happened in spite of low crude prices whose benefits have not been passed on to consumers, no cataclysmic event to derail the economy, and in spite of the global economy being robust. As Ruchir Sharma argues in the Times of India, this distress is a uniquely Indian problem.
Which unique Indian factors brought about this denouement? Obviously, the first jolt came from demonetisation and, like a typhoon following an earthquake, the poorly-executed GST roll-out added to the mess.
With figures buttressing their arguments, critics would now cry out louder that demonetisation was indeed a failed exercise. And, as unemployment grows, businesses suffer, industries stagnate, they would find a bigger audience for the criticism.
The BJP, as Shourie rightly argued, has a standard operating procedure when it comes to criticism. It believes in deflecting attention from facts and solid arguments by attacking the credibility of the critics, questioning their motive, or, branding them as traitors. This strategy has worked well so far for the BJP because in the minds of his supporters, the prime minister has become yet another manifestation of what DK Baruah once said about Indira Gandhi -- the leader being synonymous with India.
But, with facts crying out loud, anecdotal evidence pointing at lack of jobs, layoffs, and stressed businesses, the government would soon have to find a new strategy to counter growing criticism of its policies. It will have to come up with solid arguments to explain why the Indian economy is going through a bad phase in spite of the prime minister's promise of achche din. Calling the critics frustrated job applicants or traitors just won't work outside its own echo chambers.
The narrative on the ground is changing. Even the proverbial Brahmin from the parable is now realising what has been thrust on his shoulders in the name of demonetisation isn't a bakra. Unfortunately, he has been made one.
Updated Date: Oct 04, 2017 17:45 PM