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MODI’S BIG SCREW UP: State-Sponsored Disruption

Whatever the policy rationale, in one stroke the PM Narendra Modi government had intruded into the settled, orderly life of each and every citizen. No government in the last 70 years had so comprehensively disrupted the lives and routines of so many citizens across the land as did the Modi government. Collateral damage: The poor were invited to believe that “the rich” had been robbed of all their ill-gotten wealth; the middle classes were told that “black money” had been dissolved; the rich were made to feel reassured

By Harish Khare

The only way to describe the year 2016 is to characterise it as the year of State-sponsored disruption. At home and abroad, the settled order was disputed and disrupted from within. The Modi sarkar, at the midpoint of its five-year term, repeatedly tried to take its presumably best shot at posterity — first with Pakistan and then with its own citizens, subjecting them to a kind of State-directed coercion. The status quo stood disrupted, without anyone able to confidently suggest how the post-status quo order would look like in the year to come.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi is forever seeking to write himself into history books, his inhouse chroniclers should be able to assure him of an honourable place as a king who promised to restore vigour and purpose to existing arrangements but who ended up initiating a colossal monetary disruption and a foreign policy departure so unsettling that it would be some time before the keepers of history can come to a judgment about him. But before the historians, the voters in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will have their say.

In fact, the State-sponsored disruption began in the last week of the last year (2015) when Prime Minister Modi decided, seemingly on an impulse, to make a stopover in Lahore and break bread with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. This was a visit without a purpose, but it was brilliantly designed for photo opportunities. The world heaved a sigh of relief that these two nuclear-armed neighbours were engaging each other in a bit of civilised behaviour, rather than their soldiers shooting at each other.

Even without any clarity or coherence, the Lahore stopover generated good vibrations. The Minister for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, who herself learnt of the visit through social media, crooned: “That’s like a statesman. Such should be the relationship between neighbours.”

Within two weeks, the professional terrorist made his disruptive presence felt at Pathankot when a handful of mujahideen crossed over into the Indian territory, kidnapped a superintendent of police of Punjab, and then sought to storm the Air Force Base. The two countries were back to square one. And then, a few months later, the same script, the same drama, and the same acrimony was revisited when another bunch of mujahideen paid a surprise visit to the Army camp at Uri.

Under pressure to live up to his own manufactured image of being a “tough man”, the Prime Minister made one more disruptive departure — his government announced to the world that the Indian Army had carried out a “surgical strike” at some “terrorist camps” along the Line of Control. The act of “retaliation” was not unprecedented; it was its public acknowledgement that was a departure from the norm.  The “surgical strikes” played very well at home. But the rest of the world — neither the mujahideen nor the Pakistani establishment — seemed appropriately impressed with our presumed willingness to cross the line. Periodic acts of terror from across the border continued to be reported, leaving it to the Modi government to come up with another disruptive response.

And so, another disruption had to be devised: it was the mother of all disruptions — demonetisation of high denomination currency notes. Whatever the policy rationale be, in one stroke, the Modi sarkar had managed to intrude into the settled, orderly life of each and every citizen. No government in the last 70 years had so comprehensively disrupted the lives and routines of so many citizens across the land as did the Modi government. It was a half-baked, ill-thought, misconceived move. The economy stood disrupted and its future anybody’s guess.

Being probably the first self-consciously tabloid government, the Modi sarkar demonstrated a remarkably untiring capacity to keep selling the State-sponsored disruption as the “new normal”. The poor, who suffered the most, were invited to believe that “the rich” had been robbed of all their ill-gotten wealth; the middle classes were told that “black money” had been dissolved; and the rich were made to feel reassured that the banks were now awash and infused with massive capital — all coerced out of the poor — and achhe din were just round the corner.

It was not just in India that the traditional custodians of the traditional status quo were being told that they were guilty of depriving Mother India of its glory and lustre. “Outsiders” in Europe, England and the United States were also inciting local “insurrections.” America elected as President a man who is so unconventional, so unpredictable, and so unenamoured of “consensus” and “conventions” that the White House is now the new site of departures and disruptions in the global system. India cannot possibly remain untouched by the Washington-centric eccentricities.

The year 2016 and its disruptions are now being touted as “the new normal”. Whims and tantrums are being marketed as the much-needed departure from the “faded and failed” Nehruvian idea of India.

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