At 8 PM on the 8th of November 2016, the curtain rose on the greatest magic act of all time.
That evening, one man stepped onstage in front of the largest captive audience ever assembled for a performance and, in a speech spanning 2423 words that took 25:04 minutes to deliver, converted most of the currency of one of the largest economies in the world into so much worthless paper.
It was intended, he said, to usher in a Swachch economic Bharat. It was audacious in concept and ambitious in scale, even as it flew in the face of received wisdom that you cannot fool all the people all the time.
The ace mentalist Nakul Shenoy told me that a magician can, and often does, stumble during a performance. Modi’s stumble came four days into his essay in mass hypnotism when, in a November 12 speech to the NRI community in Kobe, Japan, he laughed at the hapless victims of his newest trick. “Ghar pe shaadi hai,” he smirked at one point, “lekin paisa nahin hai.” (There’s a wedding at home, but there’s no money.)
The “objectives of demonetization” — an ongoing game of hunt-the-slipper being played with the economy — received its newest and shiniest entry courtesy IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who informs us that prostitution has declined as a result of the note-ban. It is reassuring when ministers pay such close attention to such niche businesses — it tells you that they are thoroughly on top of things.
The minister also displayed his capacity for empathy when he said that only those people who could not enhance their skill sets had lost their jobs in the wake of demonetization. With that one blanket statement, the minister brushed off the estimated 1.5 million people who lost their jobs just between January and April this year as a bunch of losers. If it was a reflection on his own ministry, which back in January this year was busy signing MoUs to upskill people, the low-profile minister modestly allowed that fact to pass unsaid.