New Delhi: During a campaign speech in Bhatinda, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have said, “For me, elections do not matter.” How true is that?

Elections do matter for Modi. Else, he wouldn’t fight them. What he means is that he weighs policies and programmes by their capacity to benefit people. Once he is convinced of a course of action, nothing will deter him. Its impact on elections does not enter the calculation.

Two recent examples should conclusively prove this. No previous government has conducted surgical strikes against Pakistani terrorism quite in the manner that the Narendra Modi government did. The strikes were conducted with clinical precision. Thereafter, the military was given complete ownership of the strikes when it revealed them to the world.

There were huge political risks associated with the strikes. Had they miscarried, there would have been embarrassment, loss of face, and no hope for Modi to survive the debacle. He took the risk nevertheless, because doing nothing was no longer an option. And when the risk paid off, he stepped back, and the military got the deserved glory.

The demonetization programme of 8 November is the second major risk he has taken. With public opinion behind him, the first part of his risk has paid off. But there is a long way to go before public confidence is restored in the rupee and in the banking system. This is something Modi cannot and should not ignore.

Manmohan Singh is dead wrong when he says demonetization “is a case of organized loot (and) legalized plunder of the common people”. He contradicts himself when he supports demonetization in the first part of his statement. He has let partisanship swamp reasonableness and rationality.

That said, the risks associated with demonetization have not gone. In the parts of his Rajya Sabha speech where Manmohan Singh is not brazenly partisan, he is sensible. Right after Manmohan Singh’s attack, Modi greeted him in the House with respect and without rancour. This is the democratic spirit. It is also likely that Modi will heed to what the former Prime Minister said.

If Manmohan Singh accepts that demonetization was needed, why didn’t he take the necessary action? It is difficult to be harsh on Manmohan Singh who is well-meaning and essentially decent. Perhaps he did not think he could manage the risk. It is also possible that 10 Janpath vetoed him. At all events, he did not scrap the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes that had become scandalously popular with black money hoarders and Pakistani counterfeiters.

Prime Minister Modi took the risk. It is impossible to believe that he did not understand the full implications of what he was undertaking. He cannot have not known the temporary hardships it would cause. Yet he went ahead.

It Modi had been really worried about elections, he would have kept off demonetization. The risks still remain. The risks are huge. With the exception of Nitish Kumar, no opposition leader supports demonetization. And yet, Modi hasn’t budged. It reveals his conviction and his basic fearlessness as a political leader. At the national level, there is no one like him.

If you analyze the situation closely, Modi has taken the mother of all risks. He has challenged the establishment of politics and big money. He has taken on 70 years of corruption. He could quite easily not have done any of this. He could have played safe like Manmohan Singh. He did not.

Will the risk pay off?

Frankly, this writer does not know. The Government of India is a creaky, leaky machine. It is also corrupt. It is opposed to reforms and transparency. This establishment of the corrupt and the venal will do its best to defeat Narendra Modi. The sooner Modi overcomes the corrupt establishment, the better.

The only way that will be possible is by restoring at the earliest the pre-8 November confidence in the currency.

Editor’s Note: 1. The priority of the government should be to restore confidence in the banking system. The choice of going digital or sticking to cash should be left to the people. It is grating to hear unsolicited advice about the wonders of mobile banking. Lots of Indians do not have smart phones and some do not trust mobile banking. The government’s job is to secure the currency. Let people decide for themselves how they wish transact with it. Indians don’t want a nanny state. They value their liberty above all things.

2. Under Raghuram Rajan, the RBI spoke too much, and often out of turn. Now, it has gone mute. Both extremes are wrong.