Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is right. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indeed created a 'new normal' with the demonetisation move. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) relinquishing monetary policy to the prime minister, the prime minister unilaterally taking a huge decision, common people given no time to prepare, the restrictions on them for withdrawing their own money, the resultant unending queues outside bank branches and ATMs, the deaths of many in this entire process and an unrepentant government in spite of all of this - these are all new normals.
In fact, the entire tenure of the Modi government in these two and a half years is replete with several new normals. As the government moved from the first 100 days to the first year, then to the second and now to the half-way mark, it also progressed from one controversy to another. From 'love jihad' to 'ghar wapsi', from beef-ban to Dadri and from 'surgical strikes' to 'demonetisation". Each of these created limited ripples that subsided with the advent of the next controversy.
What they left behind was a new normal - a new normal of what MPs and ministers will publicly say and it will become acceptable; a new normal of what somebody no less than the prime minister will promote as much through his speeches as through silence; a new normal of what angry mobs will do in the name of the cow; a new normal of government's interference in our personal lives, telling us what to eat and what not to and finally, a new normal of government's interference in individual financial decisions, restricting our access to our own money.
A wall of fame among Union ministers
Let us jog our memory and recall these moments of glory. Remember Giriraj Singh, the motormouth minister with a penchant for sending people to Pakistan? He had first hit the headlines way back in April 2014, thanks to his instruction to all Modi-critics to go to Pakistan. Two and a half years and several such controversial statements later, Singh continues to be in the Union council of ministers, along with his equally famous colleague Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti of the 'Ramzadon vs haramzadon' fame. Isn't it a new normal for the country that people with such rabid thoughts and vocabularies are our ministers and MPs?
Speaking of ministers, much higher in seniority to them is Cabinet minister Mahesh Sharma, who had no qualms in backing the alleged killers of Mohammad Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri. A year after the lynching, Sharma was back in Dadri offering condolences to the family of one of the alleged killers who had kept the latter's body draped in the national flag. Then there is Sharma's colleague Sanjeev Balyan, who was an accused in the Muzaffarnagar-riots of 2013.
In the Dadri incident too, Balyan neither condemned the murder nor demanded action against the killers. Instead, he demanded a probe into who else ate the 150 kilos of beef so that action could be taken against them.
The prime minister, of course, is yet to unequivocally condemn the lynching itself. Hasn't this established a new normal that one can become a vigilante, kill in the name of the cow and expect to be backed by the government of the day?
Ram Shankar Katheria was dropped from the Cabinet in the last reshuffle in July 2016. However, his party hasn't done anything to hold him accountable for his hate speech, in which he had allegedly asked Hindus to wage the 'final battle' against Muslims. Katheria, of course, continues to sit in Parliament.
Other dignitaries on this wall of fame include, MPs Yogi Adityanath and Hukum Singh and MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana. Adityanath is regularly in the headlines for his radical views on Muslims and was an active proponent of the 'love-jihad' theory and the 'ghar-wapsi' campaign. Singh, Som and Rana were also accused of fanning communal passions during the Muzaffarnagar riots. In 2015, Som also made multiple visits to Dadri to comfort the families of the alleged murderers of Akhlaq and nearly fomented agitations backing them.
Hukum Singh continues to be on the rampage, having raised the bogey of exodus of Hindus from a little known corner of Uttar Pradesh. Only recently, he warned of another partition and asked Hindus to remain alert.
There are many such rubicons that the government and the ruling party have crossed in the last two and a half years. In leaving them behind as milestones, they have established several new normals that are a grave threat to the constitutional norms in the way we have known them so far.
It is not as if we have not had damaging governments earlier. Why, we have gone through the suspension of the Constitution itself by one such government. That this government is dangerously close to that one is a standing argument.
The bigger threat, possibly, are these new normals that must be remembered if they are to be reversed, in the interest of the nation and in the interest of a rule-based, egalitarian and humanitarian social order.