Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s diatribe on demonetisation against the Narendra Modi government in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday was impactful but his record while he was in office hardly justified such harsh words for a policy measures which is expected to show its beneficial results only in the longer term.
There is little doubt that the fallout of a sudden withdrawal of 85 per cent of the currency from circulation should have been foreseen and steps taken to ensure that the common man was not put to such hardship, but to characterize it as a case of “organised loot and legalised plunder of the common people” is preposterous.
From a person who has been known to measure his words, such intemperate rhetoric was shocking indeed. It reflected a desire to score brownie points and to sound bold and forthright. There is no denying that the Congress party with Dr Singh as prime minister was averse to bold initiatives and treaded on the path of excessive caution. That corruption in public life reached its zenith especially during the later years of Congress rule and that Dr Manmohan Singh did little to stem the tide of corruption is now recorded in history.
While Mrs Sonia Gandhi as Congress chief wielded real power with little responsibility, the accountability was that of Dr Singh who was fine with it so long as he was kept in office. While it was not sycophancy of the kind that the Congress is known for, the Manmohan Singh style of subservience and servility was no less revolting.
An intellectual like Dr Singh had no qualms in signing on the dotted line without exercising his mind. It was the public revulsion against such servility as much as the surrender to vested interests that were the primary reason for the virtual decimation of the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. For such a man to now cry ‘wolf’ in such dramatic fashion is utterly out of place when the full extent of the demonetisation package has not even unfolded.
Prime Minister Modi had sought from the people 50 days before the negative fallout from demonetisation were to start giving way to the benefits from the measure trickling in. It is so far only a bare three weeks and people like Dr Manmohan Singh are already jumping with impatience. The average man in the street when confronted by reporters has been saying that while he is going through hard times with little money in his hands, he is hopeful that things will improve as Modi says and that the ‘big fish’ will be netted by the government.
This is remarkable because the conventional logic was that people at large look more towards quick results. The fact of the matter is that there is still a lot of faith that the people have in Modi whose record of incorruptibility is widely known and admired.
Indeed, the masses loathe the black money stashed with rich and while they want an end to the parallel economy, they see in Modi a messiah of hope. This hope Modi must not belie at any cost and by giving himself a deadline of 50 days, the prime minister has staked his all on fulfilling his promise.
Strangely, Dr Manmohan Singh has no problem with the three objectives of the demonetisation move of the Modi government – curbing black money, preventing growth of fake or counterfeit currency and control of terror finance activities. While those like Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal want demonetisation to be rolled back, Dr Singh has no quarrel with the policy measure. His objection is to the ‘monumental mismanagement’ of the demonetisation move.
Yet, as a well-know economist and former prime minister, he has no suggestions to give to the government to improve implementation by streamlining things. Does that show the desire to see this government failing in its endeavor holding primacy over national interest? Dr Singh said in his Rajya Sabha speech that he feels that the Prime Minister must come up with some constructive proposal on how we can implement this scheme and at the same time prevent this distress that has been caused to the common people. Why is he shy of lending him a hand in wider national interest?
Says Dr Singh: “It is no good that every day the banking system comes with modification of the rules, the conditions under which the people can withdraw money. That reflects very poorly on the Prime Minister’s office, on the Finance Minister’s office and on the Reserve Bank of India.”
If the Modi government is taking firefighting measures on a day-to-day basis to improve conditions, should that be seen as a poor reflection on the system? In fact, the reflection would be poor if the government sits tight arrogantly, not responding to problems that arise in the course of implementation.