Have you noticed the bitterness with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been speaking at public meetings of late, including the one in Kanpur in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh? The lively, interactive speeches, loaded with blunt humour, with which the PM pulled crowds have given way to scornful outbursts suggesting "I know it all" and "you know nothing" supremacism, as people question his rationale for demonetisation.
Political scientists say when a leader turns bitter at his people, rebukes them for failing to laud his initiatives, and demands deference instead of offering arguments, his fall is near.
You don't need a bunch of economists or opposition leaders to tell you demonetisation has backfired. Modi and Amit Shah's demeanour says it all. Newspapers a few days ago were littered with reports on how Shah lost his cool when BJP's top state leaders apprised him about the seething public mood due to the cash crunch.
This is an illustration that he and his master want to live in a make-believe world where there is all validation and no question. When rulers act so, it shows that they have not only lost the plot, but there is no option left for redemption.
Let us quickly look at how Modi's tall talk on demonetisation fell flat soon after November 8 when it was announced. His apologists claimed that with one masterstroke, he rendered all unaccounted cash as illegal tender. In reality, almost all of the Rs 15 lakh crore cash in denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 came back into the formal banking system.
The finance minister, shocked at this development, gave hurried statement assuring that transferring money to banks will not whiten it. The tax department will make scrupulous investigations and levy fines in fraudulent cases. Really? Thirty per cent of the sanctioned 70,000 posts in the income tax department are lying vacant. Where is the manpower to undertake this mammoth scrutiny? Are there enough attorneys to take the black sheep to task?
Understandably, the government scrambled to divert public attention towards a cashless economy, not part of the original discourse on November 8. But in a country where only 53 per cent of the population has a bank account, cashless transactions are a utopian concept.
"Modi Antoinette", a sobriquet the PM has earned in the social media of late, remains convinced of his assertion, though.
|In stark contrast to the noisy Narendra Modi, Manmohan Singh was a doer of action. (Photo: India Today)|
The government claimed demonetisation will stop terror funding. The deadly Nagrota attacks of 29 November, and the Pampore ambush that followed, made a mockery of this claim. Naively, the Centre told the people digitalisation will curb black money.
Examples suggested otherwise. About 75 per cent of Kenya's adult population makes online transactions for all payments, yet the country makes headlines for corruption. Other African countries such as Zimbabwe and Tanzania, too, score poor on the transparency index despite high digital transactions.
What is further ironical is that the Modi government is not even prepared to metamorphose India's economy into a cashless one. The Digital India programme is languishing. Of the 1,00,000 village panchayats planned to be connected to the countrywide optical fibre cable network by March 2016, only 8,000 have been actually connected. The target for March 2017 is a mammoth 2.5 lakh village panchayats, a day dream given the current pace.
The problem with this government is the overconfidence of the Prime Minister. The megalomaniac PM, who created a record of sorts in January 2015 by wearing a pin-stripe suit with his name stitched 10,000 times on it, is convinced that noise can make up for substance.
His debatable achievements as Gujarat CM brought him to the limelight, as his team worked overnight to stifle voices that claimed the majority of investments he was credited to have brought to Gujarat never went beyond the paperwork.
He secured the country’s top job in May 2014, riding high on a web of deceitful social media campaign in which, among the countless lies, Switzerland's roads were notoriously shown as Gujarat's roads.
But jumlas come with an expiry date. Now that he is Prime Minister, people are getting disenchanted with all talk and no show. He talked about Swachh Bharat, but the country's lanes remained littered.
He talked about Namami Gange, but the holy water remained dirt-filled. He talked about yoga, but health spending was swiftly cut down. He postured about surgical strikes, but record 64 soldiers were killed in 2016, the highest in six years.
In stark contrast to the noisy Modi, Manmohan Singh was a doer of action. His SEZ Act of 2005 stepped up foreign investment manifold. From rank five in mobile penetration when AB Vajpayee quitted office, India jumped three places by the middle of Dr Singh's term and became second only to China.
By expanding the budget of mid-day meals and emboldening the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the UPA government ensured a giant leap in gross enrolment ratio. The NREGA rained jobs. Revolutionary steps in the form of Aadhaar, Land Acquisition Act and GST Bill were envisaged despite the BJP creating hurdles.
And it may surprise many, but it was UPA's Nirmal Bharat programme and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission that provided the framework for sanitation and urbanisation. When Modi talks of Swachh Bharat and Smart City, he is only reading out from UPA's books, after conveniently changing the cover.
And that sums it up. A great orator and a great lifter of ideas can create a buzz. But he cannot sustain it. In the next two-and-a-half years, the rest of his mask will slip.