While most polls show good public support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive, he has been absolutely plastered by the mainstream media, liberals and intellectuals of India.
TV news channels have been showing queues at banks and ATMs and the resultant chaos day in and day out. “Usual suspect” economists like Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen have rubbished the move and even former PM Manmohan Singh has come out of hiding to blast it.
Demonetisation deaths are being played up and the Opposition has gone on the rampage all over India. Parliament has been rocked and even the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha has called it “de-Modi-tisation” of India.
However, those clinging on to the faint chance of a rollback will find that forget backing down, Modi may unveil an even more hardline avatar for New Year, 2017.
For one, it is already clear that demonetisation is not a knee-jerk reaction, but part of a grand plan Modi had in mind even before he came to power. The RBI was told to stop printing notes well in advance. There were plans for a new Rs 2,000 note long back. Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan was let go of.
The Aadhar identification process was augmented instead of being scrapped in 2014. The Jan Dhan Yojana was pushed with ferocity to get everyone into the banking system. A tax amnesty scheme was declared before demonetisation.
In fact, everything Modi has been doing in the last two years subtly led to the 8/11 "surgical strike". Further, his recent speeches show he is far from done. If you thought he was on the backfoot after all the chaos and criticism, then the contrary appears to be true.
Just check out his speeches after 8/11. They have been full of rage and warnings and history has shown that Modi doesn’t give empty threats. When he puts the wheels of his operation in motion, he goes all out.
“I will not stop doing this even if you burn me alive,” was one such comment. Then there was the 50-day deadline after 8/11, post which the people were free to “punish” Modi. The new year comes shortly after that mind you.
The war against black money looks to be just starting. There will be no rollback of the demonetisation drive. A gold hoarding crackdown looks a certainty and real estate reforms are already in the offing with rumour mills buzzing nonstop.
|The war against black money looks to be just starting.|
Real estate is one of the dirtiest and blackest industries in India and a "surgical strike" there is inevitable. 2017 could well prove to be the year of cracking down on “gold and land”. There has been a foreign bank account push in the background and that also seems to be bearing fruit. If the corrupt are squirming in November-December this year, it could be much worse in 2017.
Since elections are in 2019, 2018 will be the campaign year and Modi will not want to do anything tough then and is sure to come out with one populist move after another that time. That means the February 1, 2017, annual Budget is his last chance to shove strict economic measures down the throat of the common man.
So don’t be surprised if the budget is an “anti-populist” one, which is seen as a hardline one by one and all.
Then there’s another landmark. President Pranab Mukherjee’s term expires in July 2017. This is the first time we will have the chance of a BJP president and vice-president. Right now, the NDA is way ahead of the Congress and its allies in the Electoral College, the first time such a thing has happened.
More importantly, BJP will emerge as the single largest party in the Rajya Sabha by then, (even more so adding its nominated members) and its Chairman will also be a BJP vice-president.
There are many Bills and reforms pending, such as Land Bill, Electoral Reforms, Judicial Reforms... Modi will just have two 2017 Parliament sessions (Monsoon and Winter) to push all his hardline reforms before elections. He is sure to do just that.
Modi will be a man with a mission and try to complete all his “anti-populist” moves in 2017 itself.
To put it another way…
2018 will be the Year of Populism.
2017 will be the Year of Anti-Populism.
Circumstances have played themselves out in such a manner that Modi will unveil his most hardline side from 2016-end to 2017-end.
The BJP burnt their fingers badly with the “India Shining” campaign in 2004. Modi is not going to make the same mistake.
The people elected Modi for being a toughie, expecting him to crack down against corruption.
In 2018, Modi is going to sell himself as the toughie who did crackdown against corruption! And for that demonetisation is not enough. He will have to go even further.
The BJP made great gains in the recent bypolls and Maharashtra civic elections. That is already being seen by Modi as a sort of referendum to go the whole hog.
So expect a very stormy 2017.
Everything certainly points to that!