It was barely a 6.48-minute-long address, but former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, forever derided for never speaking up enough during his tenure, has demonstrated how substance can win over self-serving style and ceaseless self-echoing that's the new rhetorical currency in present-day India.
In Rajya Sabha today, former PM Singh described PM Narendra Modi's demonetisation drive as "legalised plunder and organised loot".
In my opinion, the last time something of this monumental scale and this quick a decimation of existing economic networks happened was when the East India Company had its 100-year-long stranglehold on India.
Singh's harsh but bitterly true words resonated with the pain and hardships currently being endured by millions of Indians since 0000 hours of November 9, and came right after a day that PM Modi - via the self-fulfilling prophecy that is his eponymous app - declared that 93 per cent of the five lakh people who participated in his survey on the issue, supported his cause.
It is interesting from a journalistic point of view to compare and contrast the terribly differing approaches of the two prime ministers, but as Christiane Amanpour said in her International Press Freedom address yesterday, a journalist's job is not to be neutral, but to take the side of the truth.
Today, Manmohan Singh is on the side of the truth - a particularly difficult one befalling over 85-90 per cent of Indians, while PM Modi, who ensures that his "feedback loop" is as biased and skewed as the leading questions that emanate from the surveys he showcases in the name of democracy, is on the side of a fabricated fortune, selling Indians the dream of a distant future that's a digital heaven, while completely destroying the present of India's poor and downtrodden.
It is important to understand that the economist former PM Manmohan Singh, who rarely speaks publicly since his government lost to Modi-led BJP, with the Congress reduced to a humiliating 44 Lok Sabha seats in May 2014, wouldn't have castigated the current regime's so-called "surgical strike on black money", had it not been a wild goose chase encumbering the whole of India, hitting the GDP by a good two per cent, the biggest chunk of which belongs to the informal sector, which is mostly cash-based, but is nevertheless responsible for the largest share of employment generation.
A recent report has found that one per cent of Indians hold 58.4 per cent of the country's wealth. When compared to the fact that cash economy provides direct employment to a staggering 45 per cent of Indians, and that 85 per cent of the cash economy is now hit because the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes have been demonetised since November 8 midnight, the impact becomes even more titanic.
|PM Narendra Modi in Rajya Sabha today. (Photo credit: RSTV)|
Dr Singh, a soft-spoken man who was at the helm of the government for a decade, is no socialist. Significantly, along with PV Narasimha Rao, Singh has been hailed as the architect of India's economic liberalisation in 1991, which too was a mammoth undertaking, in fact far, far bigger in scale and audacity than PM Modi's demonetisation drive.
But liberalisation took a good five-six years to take root among the masses. It did not subject the people of India to an unbearable monetary endurance test in the name of patriotism.
It was a response to dwindling state of the economy, which desperately needed foreign direct investment. It was bringing down the financial iron curtain, a pragmatic move, which though criticised at that point, has nevertheless expanded the economy exponentially.
The criticism of neo-liberalism, which came with financial deregulation, isn't opposed to liberalisation of the economy in principle, but the ruthless tendencies of market fundamentalism itself.
And that criticism still holds, because of the unevenness of distributing the fruits of liberalisation, the neglect of the agricultural sector that followed, the further concentration of wealth that it allowed in the name of privatisation of public sector companies and our national assets.
This, however, the UPA government tried to balance somewhat with welfare economics and legislations intended to benefit those hitherto left out from the gigantic ambit of liberalisation.
The MGNREGA, Food Security Act, Land Acquisition Act were among a few notable undertakings that have brought significant help to those who were too poor to avail the goodies of globalisation.
Singh administration had welfare economists like Jean Dreze and civil rights activists like Aruna Roy on the National Advisory Council, which Modi sarkar duly dissolved, for its leftwing, pro-poor policies. Jean Dreze has said "demonetisation in a booming economy is like shooting at the tyres of a racing car.
Yet, what we see in Modi administration is a hocus-pocus of a uber-centralisation of power (that is maximum government, actually maximum Modi) that is typical of communist-socialist regimes in which State is the ultimate arbitrator of wealth and rules.
We see this every day, in the emergence of a brand new rule which to guide ourselves with, creating uncontrollable chaos impacting all of us. The latest one, in which our own hard-earned money is inaccessible to us, is only the last but not the least in a long series of encroachments into our private and public lives and citizens of India.
Whether it's declaring with great fanfare the "surgical strikes along the Line of Control" against Pakistan, or the astounding governmental overreach in imposing a hasty, unprepared and unfeasible demonetisation, the shock and awe and the song n' dance of governance is in stark contrast with the quiet fortitude of former PM Manmohan Singh, though the same may not be said of his fractured regime.
This is not to say that corruption, or policy paralysis didn't weigh it down and by 2011 - when the India Against Corruption movement happened - there was an image crisis from which it could not recover.
However, the gift of May 2014 was to give us a popularly elected leader who is obsessed with image management. For Modi, it's important to look good and appear to be doing good, than doing much that truly converts to actual benefits accrued over time.
The frenetic pace of Modi's imagination is out of sync with India's reality because it wills itself to tame a slouching behemoth that is the whole of the world's biggest democracy to leapfrog and perform circus antics fit for a mouse.
I do not know if Modi actually believes that his app - which gave him a 93 per cent positive review - is an accurate indicator of the mood of the nation. If he does, he is deluded.
But if he doesn't, and still wants us to accept this clear and appalling rigging of a democratic system, then it's doubly criminal. It's misleading and misinforming.
It's perpetuating a lie, and refusing to come out of his digital bubble that he wants to force the economy into at a rate that's a sure shot intentional throttling of a thriving beast.
In the words of a famous Bengali fictional sleuth, Feluda (creation of the legendary Satyajit Ray), it's an unpardonable error if you want to tweak your deduction and methodology to suit a foregone conclusion, that's exposing your own bias and subject position.
PM Modi has concluded that Digital India - which for him is an ecosystem of a handful of big corporates monopolising the electronic economy, we need to keep a tab on the times his face pops up in advertisements featuring private players - is the logical national heaven India must be lifted up to. If, in the process, 85 per cent of Indians fall off his magic carpet, so be it.