Response of political parties to the government’s decision to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes is much like the parable of blind men and an elephant.
Each of them picked a different part and drew their own conclusions – the elephant is a rope to one who touched the tail, a long fan to another who touched the ear and a wall to the one who touched the belly.
None of them were wrong but they were all far from the truth.
Similarly parties have reacted differently to the government’s demonetisation decision.
Parties such as the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party want a rollback of the decision, which they say is “anti-poor”. The Congress, the Left and a few others don’t want a rollback but have hit the streets, citing inconvenience caused to public due to faulty implementation of the currency swap.
The ruling side has called it a revolutionary move, a surgical strike on corruption and black money.
Opposition parties have disrupted Parliament for 10 days to show solidarity with those queuing up outside banks and ATMs for hours to withdraw money.
Government strategists don’t mind disruptions, as they believe these paint opposition parties as the supporters of black money.
But behind the bravado and show of belligerence is a discernible sense of insecurity and apprehension — on both sides of the demonetisation divide.
The BJP, as a party parliamentarian put it, is happy because the poor are overwhelmed with “irshya janit anubhuti (jealousy-driven feeling)”. As prime minister, senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh might have cautioned the rich against ostentatious displays of wealth but it is the NDA government that has given the poor a vent to let out their frustration.
People are inconvenienced but they are supporting Modi for acting against the rich, says BJP leaders.
Opposition leaders concur but are of the view that the poor will eventually run out of patience as they will see no visible impact of demonetisation on the life of the rich.
Both sides foresee economic slowdown and job losses. While the opposition parties see in it a “beginning of the eventual unravelling” of the Modi phenomenon, ruling party leaders are banking on the Prime Minister to neutralise it.
They expect that the government will use the surplus money to finance populist schemes and provide a fresh impetus to the economy by infusing cash in both private and public sectors.
Much of this difference in the reading of the situation stems from the response of the people.
Reports from the ground indicate that while people are struggling to get cash, they are not against the demonetisation move. There are no reports of spontaneous protests against Modi or his government.
Political scientist Zoya Hasan attributes this to three factors. First, from early 1970s, the BJP (then the Jan Sangh) and the RSS have been building public opinion on black money and corruption and the current dispensation has been able to tap into it.
Second, it’s a post-truth phenomenon created by the social media where facts get overshadowed by appeals to emotions. And third, in the national and anti-national discourse set by the BJP, people are too scared to speak out.
Be that as it may, ambiguity about the extent of people’s anger or support has left the political class confused.
Both the ruling and the opposition leaders are watching Modi’s words and actions carefully. “If it were some other PM, we could have seen riots on the streets. People still have faith in Modiji and so they are ready to give him time to deliver,” says a senior BJP leader.
Opposition leaders acknowledge the PM’s ability to “pull off anything” but hope otherwise. “He has played the biggest political gamble of his political career. If it works out, we might be sitting in the Opposition for 15 years but it won’t happen,” says a Congress functionary.
Whatever their differences both sides seem to be living on “hope”, for now.