When Prime Minister Narendra Modi won an absolute majority in the 2014 election, the big question was how would he use this extraordinary political capital.
Would he invest it in pushing the Hindutva cause? Would it be for major liberal economic reforms? Would it be for war, or peace, with Pakistan?
On November 8, Modi decided to invest it in one of the most audacious experiments in political economy India has ever witnessed. With demonetisation, every citizen was affected; all economic sectors adversely hit; life was thrown out of gear.
Fifty days later, three things are clear. One, Modi remains enormously popular. He was able to construct a narrative of the working poor versus the corrupt rich, and how this move would end the power of the latter. It is because of the faith that large sections of people have in his integrity and intentions that the government was able to pull off such a scheme - with obvious execution flaws - without mass unrest, major riots or large scale violence. It is difficult to imagine other democratic leaders being able to engineer such a coercive economic measure with such little resistance.
Two, the political space has opened up. The BJP’s traditional base of traders and entrepreneurs are hard-hit and angry; but the party sees the possibility of winning over the poor and changing its support base. The Congress and the rest of the opposition believe that this may be their opening to win back the middle class as well as portray Modi as anti poor, since they have been hit. Regional, gender, caste, and class base of all parties is in flux.
And three, the opposition has found a voice -- even if a fragmented one. Rahul Gandhi was more focused in his attacks. Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal are working hard to capture the anti-Modi political space. But with Nitish Kumar’s vocal support and Navin Patnaik’s more muted reaction opposition unity remains distant.
Modi’s economics has disrupted Indian politics, which may remain so for years to come.