Narendra Modi in Goa: With political capital at stake, PM shows glimpses of vulnerability

Even during this, easily the most trying time of his tenure, Narendra Modi's political rivals and detractors have not been able to answer a simple question. What prompted the Prime Minister to take such a huge risk? Modi has always been a polarising figure. But even his biggest critic won't underestimate him as a fool. Would he have not known the enormity of the gamble he was about to take by wiping out 86 percent of the total currency in circulation?

The dramatic demonetisation drive to corner black money hoarders, cut corruption and bust fake currency rackets has prompted the media in Singapore to call him India's Lee Kuan Yew. But in playing the reformer, was Modi unaware of the incompatibility of his action when he wanted India, at one stroke, to become Singapore with the infrastructure of Rwanda?

Given the logistical nightmare, and the 100 percent chance that this will result in sheer chaos, anarchy and anger his vote base (since traders will be the worst hit) why did Modi commit political suicide? If the Prime Minister did it for election gains (as some political rivals and some in the media have suggested), he must be the biggest dunce the world, has ever produced, who drives the common man to tears and still expects them to vote for him. What explains this?

 Narendra Modi in Goa: With political capital at stake, PM shows glimpses of vulnerability

Narendra Modi. PTI

None of his critics, with their repertoire of dramatics, semantic jugglery or rhetorical gymnastics has been able to satisfactorily crack this puzzle. And yet this is the only question worth pondering over that should give us a peek into the mind of a man who is so consumed with an idea that nothing seems to deter him — not even the prospect of a brutal thrashing at the hustings.

Political leaders of every hue never make the mistake of irking their core vote-banks. This is the same principle that forced Mamata Banerjee to support the regressive custom of triple talaq or made Mayawati remain quiet when BJP leader Daya Shankar's wife and daughter were being openly harassed in public by an irate mob. Despite knowing that he is playing poker with a financial system still not ready to absorb a shock of this nature and fully aware that this action won't go down well among the community of traders who have never let the BJP down, Modi went ahead and implemented an idea breathtaking in audacity and stunning in ambition.

Few politicians have the courage and conviction to stay true to a promise when the downside involves risk that may end up exhausting even a formidable capital. If the PM took such a risk, it shows his supreme confidence and a quid pro quo of deep trust between Modi and his electorate. He, as Swapan Dasgupta writes in his column for The Times of India, would have calculated that the electorate, though being made to go through utter inconvenience and hardship, will "appreciate forthrightness and loftiness of purpose."

But he would be hurting. No matter how strong the conviction and unshakable the trust, Modi isn’t blind to the factors at play — the market slipping into a recession, daily lives suspended in a surreal act of faith and common man getting increasingly restive as the days tick by and the system near a total collapse.

It is this realisation, that the nature of the crisis is such that it has put even the strongest of bond between a leader and his citizens to test, that Modi sought to reach out and reassure the people on Sunday, begging for a little more time to set the house in order.

"This is not an end. I have more projects in mind to make India corruption-free... Cooperate with me and help me for 50 days and I will give you the India you desired," Modi said, after laying the foundation stone of Mopa greenfield airport and launching work on electronic city project in Goa.

"I know that [some] forces are up against me, they may not let me live, they may ruin me because their loot of 70 years is in trouble, but I am prepared," Modi said in a speech which saw him getting emotional a few times.

Modi reminded people that this wasn't a unilateral "tughlaqi" decision that he imposed on people, rather he was following the command that had put him on Prime Minister's chair.

"I am doing what I was asked to do by the people of this country and it had become clear from the very first meeting of my Cabinet when I formed the SIT (on black money). We never kept the people in dark."

Those who accuse Modi of taking a decision in haste weren't paying full attention when the calibrated steps were taken. If creating the Jan Dhan accounts and linking them to Aadhar and mobile phone was the first step, the bringing back of Rs 13,000 crore from overseas account was the next. The voluntary disclosure scheme came next, which mopped up another Rs 65,000 crore till the last quarter and Modi had reminded people that black money hoarders should get ready for stringent action post 30 September, when the IDS came to a close.

Charges of random action, therefore, reflect a poor understanding of the process at work. But politics has an enmity with rationality because it more often than not appeals to the base emotions. The opposition had initially been caught on the wrong foot but as inconvenience grew, many like Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee accused Modi of being drunk in power and making life hell for the poor.

Modi's emotional reaction may have something to do with the fact that he understands the unpopularity of his decision and can only gamble on his electorate to have a better understanding of the higher national purpose.

“I was not born to sit on a chair of high office. Whatever I had, my family, my home — I left it for nation,” he said in Goa. "Why do we have to put the future of our youths at stake? Those who want to do politics are free to do so."

He said he feels the pain, not as someone who needs to woo the public, but someone who has experienced it. "Yes I also feel the pain. These steps taken were not a display of arrogance. I have seen poverty and understand people's problems."

An orator knows when to reserve his punches and when to pull them. But though a master communicator, we didn't see an orator at work. Modi's clarion call that he is ready to "face consequences" of his action came from a rawer emotion. On Sunday, we saw the strong leader being reduced to vulnerable heap of emotions armed with nothing but his conviction. Will his believers stick to him? Even Modi seemed unsure of the answer.

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Updated Date: Nov 13, 2016 21:40:20 IST