This Anecdote Busts The Myth That Modi Is Anything Like Indira

This Anecdote  Busts The Myth That Modi Is Anything Like IndiraPrime Minister Narendra Modi (L) (Kirsty Wigglesworth - WPA Pool/Getty Images)/Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (STF/AFP/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive has ruffled one too many feathers, especially in the political establishment. If media reports are anything to go by, deep down even the prime minister’s own party members aren’t very happy. However, they aren’t complaining, for obvious reasons.

Some old-media journalists have been trying to promote the narrative that Bharatiya Janata Party members knew beforehand what Prime Minister Modi was going to do and, therefore, managed to launder their money before 8 November. The same people are also telling us that the prime minister didn’t even take the finance minister into confidence before dropping the demonetisation bombshell. The opposition has been peddling these two fictions to the public, hoping at least one would stick. Alas! It has only exposed how woefully unprepared the prime minister’s move has caught them.

The opposition has gone so far as to call demonetisation a ‘financial emergency’, trying to evoke feelings of the horrors of the actual emergency in the times of imagined one. Many in the media even see a reflection of Indira Gandhi in Narendra Modi. He reminds them of her autocratic rule, they say. Funnily enough, when she was actually doing what the old media is accusing Modi of doing today, it crawled when it was being asked to bend. Maybe it’s not their fault. After seeing a subdued prime minister in (in)action for 10 years, any firm, bold decision coming from the 7 Race Course Road quarters must look authoritarian to them.

The narrative that Modi is similar to Indira needs to be challenged. Hundreds of pages can be written about how radically different the two leaders are in every sense. Perhaps, a whole book is waiting to be written. But, for now, one anecdote will suffice.

This is relevant because it is on the hot topic of demonetisation and shows how different Modi really is from Mrs. Gandhi. One needs to thank economist and NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy for digging it out from Madhav Godbole’s book Unfinished Innings. He shares this with us in his piece for the Open magazine.

In 1971, the Wanchoo Committee had submitted an interim report in which it had recommended, among other reforms, the demonetisation of high-value currency notes. Y B Chavan was then finance minister. The book tells us that after many deliberations over the matter, demonetisation was accepted along with other reforms suggested by the committee.

However, “in view of the sensitive nature of the subject and the need for maintaining utmost secrecy”, the prime minister’s approval was needed. So Chavan went to meet Indira. And this is what he told Godbole about his meeting with Indira on the issue.

When Y.B. Chavan told Indira Gandhi about the proposal for demonetization and his view that it should be accepted and implemented forthwith, she asked Chavan only one question: “Chavanji, are no more elections to be fought by the Congress Party?” Chavan got the message and the recommendation was shelved.

One would like to drop the proverbial mike here and rest one’s case.


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