Narendra Modi poll: Attempt to wrap issue in tricolour paints any opposition as corrupt

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For the past several days, the Parliament has been stalled with the Opposition demanding the Prime Minister's presence in the House. For reasons best known to Narendra Modi, he has decided not to lend Opposition MPs an ear and has given them the cold shoulder. But he did not spare an opportunity to irk Congress and company when he addressed the Coldplay concert in Mumbai via video conference over the weekend.

The inference is that Modi is telling the opposition: I don't care for your criticism of the demonetisation scheme.

What he has done subsequently should anger the Opposition even more. Modi's move to conduct a nationwide opinion poll by asking citizens to respond to the ten questions he has asked, is his attempt to bypass the opposition MPs. He wants the 125 crore people of India or at least those with access to a smartphone, to rate his demonetisation strike. By doing so, he is indicating that he would much rather listen to the people directly.

He is also telling the pollsters who are recording 87 percent approval ratings for his drive that he will put them out of business by conducting his own poll, with a larger sample size. It will also be seen as transparent as anyone taking the survey has to register on the Narendra Modi app and every user can take the survey only once.

But what does this poll do to the institution of Parliament? The Narendra Modi app cuts through the parliamentary red tape and sends out the message that the prime minister treats the opposition with contempt.

A point highlighted by this answer. Union minister of state for Heavy Industries, Babul Supriyo told TV cameras that when little kids (referring to ministers like him) can answer the Opposition questions, where is the need for "Daddy" to come.

This to my mind, is not the right approach. Demonetisation is a serious enough issue for the prime minister to come to Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and listen to the criticism and suggestions. Particularly when more than 70 people have died waiting in long queues in front of banks and ATMs and stampedes. Death is not a 'minor inconvenience'. It is incumbent on him to convince the MPs and through them, the nation that he has done the right thing. The Parliament after all, under the Constitution of India, is supreme and needs to debate the issue.

No one for a moment doubts Modi's intentions. Arvind Kejriwal's over the top allegations don't stick. But even many of those who strongly supported the move on 8 November are now criticising the manner in which it has been implemented on the ground. This includes even people like Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, an NDA ally and one of the proponents of the demonetisation idea. Several economists are putting caveats on whether it will really achieve its goals.

It is a bit much for Modi to expect the economics-illiterate Indian to understand the issue for him to give an informed response to the questionnaire. What Modi is doing is to emotionalise the issue when he asks whether you think "evil of corruption and black money needs to be fought and eliminated''. Of course, it has to be. Will anyone who has India's interest at heart, give an answer to the contrary?

Modi has also brought politics into the picture by asking "Do you think some anti-corruption activists are now actually fighting in support of black money, corruption and terrorism?" It is evident the reference is to Kejriwal. Modi is wrapping the question in the tricolour and suggesting that those who oppose it are on the side of the corrupt and the terrorists.

The prime minister also would be aware of an inherent flaw while using the Narendra Modi app to conduct the poll. While the MPs represent the voice of India from different states, the android app can be accessed only by smartphone users. According to a Cisco report, there are 24 crore smartphone users in India. The problem with it is that only 7 percent in the lower income category own a smartphone. This would mean the feedback with the prime minister would be skewed with users from 'smart' India responding and 'unsmart' Bharat almost going unheard.

May be the prime minister wants to come armed with the results of the app poll to Parliament to tell his critics that the people of India are with him. Because if the result gives Modi's decision the thumbs up, it will prove that an app a day keeps the critics away.

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