Logically it would imply, Modi believes the gains of demonetisation are far greater than just protecting his party's vote-bank.

The Political Gamble Why would Modi hurt his own vote bank
Voices Demonetisation Monday, November 14, 2016 - 17:39

Tejas Mehta

Why would Prime Minister Narendra Modi take such a huge political gamble which would directly hurt many of his own core voters - the small and medium-sized but powerful and wealthy vyaaparis and jewellers across middle-class India who would also have had black money and are now running helter skelter? After all, they are part of a formidable group - spread across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and various other states - who not only voted for Modi but also helped fill the BJP's election war chests. So why do it and inflict such grievous self-injury?

Currency notes by themselves are apolitical. They favour no one: neither the BJP nor the Congress. Naturally then, when Modi suddenly declared that ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes were no longer legal tender, it impacted every citizen irrespective of his or her political beliefs. The more the black money in cash, the bigger the trauma.

Modi's critics would argue it was political harakiri. Just as the Centre wrongly anticipated the extent and the intensity of the "inconvenience" that would be caused to people, they would say, likewise with his voters too, Modi has shot himself in the foot.

Now, while it is largely accepted that the slow disbursal of new notes has been painful especially for the poor, once the dust settles and the new notes are in healthy circulation, the old adage "public memory is short" would kick in. While that's possible, when it comes to core BJP supporters who have been 'financially hit', it would be naive to believe Modi - the shrewd politician - would not have taken into consideration the risk of alienating his vote-bank. It is something even newbie netas know: vote-banks are sacrosanct because they directly impact their political fortunes and future.

And so, in spite of knowing the risks and weighing in the losses, since Modi has gone ahead, logically it would imply he believes the gains of demonetisation are far greater than just protecting his party's vote-bank. Otherwise, why would anyone take this risk?

While the merits and demerits are best left for economists to judge, one would assume the greater motive would be to make India's economy less and less dependent on cash. It is about bringing a transformation in the financial consciousness of hundreds of millions of people.

How does one go about it? One can try to educate people and gradually bring in measures to move from cash to cashless. That's a very tedious process with no guarantee of success. Truth is no amount of awareness campaigns could have possibly achieved what this move potentially has.

However, since BJP leaders themselves claim it's another surgical strike, the shock-and-awe must end swiftly. Otherwise, if this becomes like a Kargil War, it will be excruciatingly painful for everyone.

 

(Tejas Mehta is an independent journalist and former Mumbai Bureau Chief, NDTV 24X7)

(Note: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author.)

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