Has Modi's Rs 100 demonetisation joke backfired?

Damayanti Datta
Damayanti DattaNov 20, 2016 | 14:44

Has Modi's Rs 100 demonetisation joke backfired?

“If I had to sing, you’d ask for refund in Rs 100 notes.”

So said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, November 19. He was giving a video-streamed address right before the British rock band, Coldplay, came on stage at the Global Citizen Fest in Mumbai. 

Just a smart comment, one could say. But if ever a comment became a turning point, this was probably it in India’s current currency crisis.


Not the big, headline-grabbing moment, say, when the PM broke down during a speech in Goa, a week ago (“I was not born to sit on a chair of high office. Whatever I had, my family, my home...I left it for the nation”) and the nation shed tears with him.

But this time, it’s his blink-and-miss comment, the casual reference to Rs 100, that sent out a subtle message and signalled a shift in public mood. For, even as the PM spoke, the packed crowd of 80,000 in the Bandra Kurla complex started chanting, “Chutta de de re Modi (give us change, Modi)”.

The PM’s currency experiment had so long received laudatory comments from the volatile social media space, with #IAmWithModi going viral. Never mind the long queues to exchange, withdraw, deposit money at banks.

Cricketer Virat Kohli hailed it as  “the greatest ever move” he has seen in the history of Indian politics by far. Bollywood singer Abhijeet tweeted that: “The nation wants #DeMonetisation.. we r and #IAmWithModi.”

The packed crowd of 80,000 in the Bandra Kurla complex started chanting “Chutta de de re Modi".

He was on the same page as 82 per cent Indians interviewed by global market researcher IPSOS. “Magic happens when you don't give up. The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart,” tweeted someone on November 17.


It has taken just one day and one comment from the PM to turn that “stubborn heart” into something else. Two hashtags have immediately sprouted and are trending: #HeartlessCOLDPM and #PocketMaarModi. Of course, Twitter being Twitter, a war has broken out, with “anti-nationals” being pitted against “nationalists”, the “LogicLess” against the “PropogandaLess”.

It has also brought into play how careful the PM needs to be with his image. After all, he is competing with the image of the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable: the 56-plus people who have died, either in queue or due to lack of cash. Or, say, the picture from Kerala of an old man standing in an ATM queue with his urine bag, which has gone viral on social media today. 

As historian Benedict Anderson wrote long back, a nation is an “imagined community”. Imagined, because we will never get to know, meet, see or even hear of all the 1.2 billion people who are our fellow citizens.

Yet we are tied to each in solidarity, because “in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”. The “success” of the PM’s drive depends on who finally manages to hijack the narrative of “imagined” communion: the PM or the people suffering his drastic currency experiment? 


Perhaps, the PM can take a leaf or two out of the judiciary’s book? The bottomline in the delivery of justice is the oft-quoted aphorism: “Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.”

Last updated: November 20, 2016 | 14:44
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