After the last word is written, spoken and tweeted on #DemonetisationDisaster, one question will still remain unanswered, a year on—and possibly for all time to come.
How did a Gujarati—yes, a ગુજરાતી—get this so wrong?
Nothing parochial here, nothing racist. And, this is not an attack on that amorphous commodity that Narendra Modi masterfully invoked and milked: Gujarati asmita. Just a simple, straightforward, honest-to-God question: how did a man from a state renowned for its magical skills with money—રોકડ—flounder so spectacularly? And how did he do so not once, but twice, in the same calendar year?
Nobody expected Narendrabhai to quote Kant or Foucault. Nobody suspected he had read Keynes or Schumpeter. Indeed, as an “outsider” pooping the Lutyens Delhi party, the Gujarat University Master of Arts “Entire Political Science” (batch of 1983) built his reputation on his anti-intellectualism, thumbing his nose at the know-it-alls from Inner Temple.
Yet, even his worst critics would have felt that when it came to money, he would be leagues ahead of those geniuses from Oxford and Harvard.
After all, this man was a ગુજરાતી.
After all, this man was behind the so-called “Gujarat Model”.
And, most importantly, this man was a chaiwala with his ear to the railway platform.
Yet, to see full-page advertisements in today’s newspapers (above), and coordinated tweets by ministers hailing the paid hashtag #DemonetisationWins, and videos tom-tomming its “benefits” is an arrogant dance of unbridled arrogance bordering on hubris.
# Lives have been lost.
# Families have been ruined.
# Livelihoods have been destroyed.
# Local economies have been shattered.
# Jobs have been lost.
# Growth fallen.
For Modi (and his ministers and spokespersons and trolls and bots) to count the benefits of #Demonetisation in such a grotesque, necrophilic manner is a cruel demonstration of the disappearance of executive remorse; an inability to say we are sorry, we were wrong.
As former prime minister Manmohan Singh put it: this is a government that has lost both its head and its heart. Narendra Modi’s inability to apologise to those who have paid with their lives shows that in plenty.
At another level, it begs the primary question: how did a Gujarati get his sums so wrong?
# Is it because Modi is just a kirana store-level ગુજરાતી, more at home with minor cash transactions and not attuned to the demands of high policy for a vast, complex nation like ours?
# Is it because Modi is just a reputational chaiwala by claim and repetition, and therefore not rooted to the realities on the ground where large numbers of people subsist on next to nothing?
# Is it because of his latent anti-intellectualism where he scorned the advice of trained economists like Raghuram Rajan and went along with Nagpur-certified quacks like S. Gurumurthy, Subramanian Swamy, Baba Ramdev and Arthkranti?
# Is it because of his inherent distrust in people, where even his finance minister and chief economic advisor were kept in the dark, and his cabinet locked up?
# Is it because the “Gujarat Model” was an artful, fallacious construct?
We will never know.
This much we will, however, know: merely because you are a ગુજરાતી who knows money, you do not automatically know all there is to know about the economy.
Graphic: courtesy The Telegraph, Calcutta