Despite apprehension, Narendra Modi was heralded as a whiff of fresh air when he was elected to the office of the Prime Minister with a record electoral margin. For many, it was a detour from the old dispensation and his popular slogan of ‘Achhe din’ (good days) through ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (with everyone, development for all), resonated with the masses.
Three years down the line, the narrative of Modi as ardent economic reformer and good governance seems to be faltering. It is giving ample ammunition to the opposition and also dispelling the aura of invincibility around him. On two economic policies – Demonetisation and Goods & Services Tax (GST) – both bold and equally disruptive, the Prime Minister was weighed and measured, but found wanting.
On November 8, 2016, demonetisation was introduced as a moral imperative against corruption and black money. However, haphazard implementation created chaos across the country and resulted in loss of many lives. It was also attributed as the chief contributing factors to India’s rare economic slowdown in recent times.
With the Reserve Bank of India’s annual report (2016-17) stating that Rs 15.28 lakh crore, or 99 per cent of the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, having returned to the banking system, it increasingly looks like a futile exercise. Despite demonetisation, his popularity and cult like followings remained intact, paying huge electoral dividends, particularly in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.
The GST was another big bang economic reform sold as ‘One Nation One Tax’ to the general masses. Aimed at standardizing myriad indirect taxes across the country, the implementation process proved to be confusing, disruptive and filled with technical glitches. Another chink in Modi’s armour.
Suddenly, Modi looks like a person who has many grand visions but suffers from acute implementation problem. A common narrative India has seen since her independence – no longer perceived as a detour, but a re-invention.
In such a situation, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi suddenly seems to have discovered his mojo – a far cry from his reluctant persona earlier, and most importantly with a visceral sense of humour, his attacks on the Union Government’s policies suddenly seem to be hitting a chord, at least with netizens.
Forty four years ago when seminal movie ‘Sholay’ (1975) was released, the fictional villain character Gabbar Singh acquired cult status and became a constant feature in popular culture.
After GST glitches, the character came back to haunt the ruling party in the government, giving enough ammo to the opposition to attack its policies. Demonetisation was also described as ‘monumental mismanagement’ by a former Prime Minister.
During an election rally in Gujarat, when Rahul christened GST as the “Gabbar Singh Tax,” it connected instantly with the masses. The fictional Gabbar Singh boasted that, “In villages 50 km from here when a child cries in the night, the mother says sleep my child, sleep, else Gabbar Singh will come.” The GST is now giving the government, and the people, sleepless nights.
The cumulative frustration over disruptive economic policies cuts across party lines and is generating a notion that the government is not meeting its rhetoric with result.
Being jittery over the current scenario, however, may not spell well for future. As the ruling party flounders on the economic front, they may turn to religious polarization and majoritarian politics to salvage the situation. Instead of upliftment, this could plunge the country into grave darkness wherein Gabbar is no more a myth.
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