POLITICS

Why PM Modi Should Listen To Chandrababu Naidu On Demonetisation

Time for some political common sense.

22/11/2016 3:26 PM IST | Updated 22/11/2016 7:26 PM IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2L) shakes hands with Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh state Chandrababu Naidu (2R) on 30 September 2016. PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

Theatrics has always been an integral part of the Telugu Desam Party's (TDP) narrative. After all, the party was founded by Telugu cinema legend, NT Rama Rao, who was even dubbed "Drama Rao", because of the theatrical flourish with which he conveyed a political emotion.

It was therefore not surprising to see N Sivaprasad, member of parliament from Chittoor, resorting to Burrakatha, which is a traditional oral storytelling style practised in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Holding a veena and donning a headgear, he parked himself in front of a State Bank of India branch in Tirupati on Monday. Sivaprasad, who also is a part-time Telugu film actor, then took potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the hardship caused due to the demonetisation move. The Telugu lyrics, translated into English, went like this:

All common men are on the road
What sin have you committed, O common man.
Troubles worse than drought have come to your house.
Not able to buy milk for the baby
Father collapses after standing in queue
Marriages have stopped
The blow that Modi struck, the country has been hit
Because of someone's hasty decision, you are being punished
Black marketeers are laughing and you have got crushed.

Why Sivaprasad-speak is important is because TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu was one of those who mooted the idea of demonetisation. He had petitioned Modi in the past on how removing high-value denomination notes would curb black money. Therefore, on the night of 8 November, when the PM announced the decision, Naidu hailed it and took credit for it at the same time.

Travelling through small towns and villages in Andhra gives you a sense of the frustration with shopkeepers unwilling to accept old notes and the non-availability of enough number of banks and ATMs.

But Naidu had not factored in the mayhem that would follow on the streets in the days to come. It gradually dawned on Naidu, who prides himself on getting his hands dirty on the field, that the implementation was a mess. And that he, by virtue of having bragged about being a proponent of the idea, would get the rough end of the stick.

The distancing began. Sivaprasad's lyrics won't be music to Modi's ears but knowing how the TDP works, he would get the script cleared before setting them to tune.

The Andhra coast is no stranger to cyclones and, having personally supervised several instances of post-cyclone relief work, Naidu knows a thing or two about how to reach out in times of distress. In October 2014, after Cyclone Hudhud devastated Visakhapatnam, he parked himself in the port city and read out the riot act to telecom service providers and transporters of essential commodities to get things back to a semblance of normalcy within a week.

Which is why, with the financial crunch still continuing two weeks after the announcement, Naidu and his party have realised that it makes little sense to be part of the hyperbole around demonetisation. The world of practise, Naidu has realised, is very different from the world of theory. "Everyone from the rich to the poor to the farmer is suffering," he noted during a teleconference.

Naidu was in favour of issuing ₹200 currency notes and, like many, felt the ₹2,000 denomination defeated the entire purpose of the exercise

The tentative U-turn is a reflection of the realisation that the delay in getting things to normal is beginning to make people angry and disappointed. Naidu, who himself admitted to getting impatient, has taken over the job of personally supervising the cash flow into different bank branches, for he knows, if the cash crunch continues for too long, it would hurt his political fixed deposit.

The first sign of discomfiture came almost immediately when Naidu voiced his concern over the decision to introduce the ₹2,000 note. Naidu was in favour of issuing ₹200 currency notes and, like many, felt the ₹2,000 denomination defeated the entire purpose of the exercise, as it will only facilitate the black money economy.

Naidu today does not preside over a Hyderabad where there are far more banks and ATMs. Travelling through small towns and villages in Andhra gives you a sense of the frustration with shopkeepers unwilling to accept old notes and the non-availability of enough number of banks and ATMs. Electronic currency has not penetrated into rural Andhra to the extent that it has in Hyderabad, making the discomfiture with this artificially created monetary chaos more pronounced.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), actor-cum-politician Pawan Kalyan has provided the double whammy. As if his blistering attack on the BJP over the Special Status issue was not enough, Pawan Kalyan tweeted saying the Centre cannot hide for long under the shield of secrecy. He criticised the government for not doing serious exercise before delegalising the tender. The BJP won't be amused at facing fire from someone who was its ally in the 2014 elections.

The BJP which is a marginal player in Andhra politics is waiting and watching. It managed to get its way by replacing Special Status for Andhra with a special financial package. It will now need to understand from Naidu if he is getting a very different sense of the ground reality than the netas sitting in Lutyens' Delhi. Naidu, after all, is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and it only makes sense for Modi to lend him an ear.

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