India's demonetization experiment has succeeded

India is different

India celebrated Diwali this weekend. Like Christmas it is a festival of lights at the time of the darkest new moon of the year. But it is also a consumer festival, although the latter is embellished religiously: The candles in the windows are supposed to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

In addition, the day before Diwali, the money machine is worshiped with a puja ceremony: coins and banknotes, account books, calculators, safes, computers and stock exchange papers are all given a red dot and a garland hung around them. If there are gifts, it is only made of one material - solid gold.

The two and a half months festival season, which culminates in Diwali, generates around forty percent of annual sales in the retail trade. This year, the anxious question from millions of shopkeepers was whether the pandemic would bring the negative end to a miserable year and finally put an end to many.

Up to 30 percent more

But Lakshmi means well to her admirers. For days now, I have been finding pictures of the crowds in my electronic mailbox of people thronging the evening bazaar streets of Delhi or Kolkata - and only a minority are wearing masks.

The first sales figures speak for themselves. The business newspaper Mint quoted on Saturday statistics from the industry associations, which indicate not just a recovery, but a net growth. Year-on-year sales are up, sometimes by over thirty percent. This number was found in household appliances and home electronics. But the auto and motorcycle industries also seem to be more than making up for the loss of the previous months.

Only textiles and jewelry are still in the red. It is probably the result of the ban on large wedding invitations that are currently booming at Diwali. In Delhi alone, up to 16,000 weddings can take place on a particularly favorable day. With a three-digit number of guests and the typical gifts of saris and gold jewelry, they contribute to the annual Diwali consumer frenzy.

"The curve is flattening"

And the 44,000 new infections every day, the more than 500 deaths, and the curve of infections across the country that are rapidly approaching the ten million mark? For more and more Indians - and the government with them - the glass is not half full, but half empty: Two months ago, almost 100,000 people were newly infected every day, with over 1200 dead. "The curve is flattening", cheers the Covid authority ICMR.

This optimism is joined - as everywhere in the world - by the exhaustion from the restrictions, from face masks to personal checks, especially in public transport. In addition, there is the everyday experience of a poor country that poverty means one thing above all else: tight living conditions, an ailing health system and inadequate state services: every day water tap in the slums crowd in crowds.

In the meantime, more and more epidemiologists suspect that both the state and the people are coming to terms with the fact that the whole of society will soon be contaminated. The New York Times on Thursday cited initial studies suggesting that the infection is well advanced. In the state of Karnataka, a quarter of the sixty million inhabitants are said to have already been infected: a nationwide study goes even further and speaks of a third of the Indian population: 450 million infections.

The majority stuck to Modi

The relatively low mortality rate - 129,000 deaths for 8.5 million positive tests - gives the government the excuse to focus its efforts on economic recovery rather than civil protection. In this way, she can also get rid of criticism from science, which is skeptical of the official test numbers. In the approximately 1.1 million daily tests, over 40 percent of the presence of antigens in the blood is determined.

But they are also being heard less and less in public. This could change, however, if the falling numbers, combined with the growing boredom, soon set off precisely that second wave, as has now happened in Europe and the USA.

But even if this were to cause mass extinction of historic proportions, the government need not fear turmoil or political upheaval. Prime Minister Modi, who has now developed a long - fortunately white - ascetic beard, continues to enjoy the support of a large majority of the population.

Lockdown: too harsh

A recent national survey by the (left-liberal) Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) among 23,500 people revealed something astonishing: 90 percent of those questioned had had great difficulties in securing their food supply; 44 percent of them described the lockdown's stranglehold as “too harsh”.

But 50 percent said the measures were correct, and even more: They should have been tougher. Even the daily TV tragedy of millions of refugees and the lack of state aid - at least in the first three weeks - most had already put up with: 73 percent gave the government a “good” to “very good” rating.

One might think (especially after the experience of the recent US elections) that polls are unreliable. But the skeptics have received the ultimate democratic “proof of truth” in the last few days: election results, with one winner: Narendra Modi.

Even if he does everything wrong

Bihar, the state with the largest number of migrant workers, elected its state parliament. It was generally expected that the coalition government with the BJP as a minority partner would receive a rebuke. The opposite happened: the party alliance was confirmed with a solid majority. The majority of seats had decreased somewhat, but not because of the BJP: This won more seats and suddenly saw itself as the dominant alliance partner.

Anyone who still questioned the national relevance of a provincial election could look at the result of the simultaneous by-elections in thirteen states: of the 58 seats that were fought for, the Modis party secured 36.

Not only the opposition, but also numerous experts and journalists, must finally acknowledge that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has once again shown that he can do anything wrong - and the Indians look up to him in spite of this.

Charismatic populism

The fateful demonetization of 2016, which hit the poorest in particular, led to an overwhelming BJP victory in the country's largest and poorest state. And a year and a half ago, Modi scored an equally impressive victory in the national elections, even though economic growth had bottomed out after five years of BJP government.

One could draw comparisons with the US elections. There, too, after a chaotic term in office with very few political successes, the resigning president was able to gather almost half of the voters behind him. And one could deduce from both cases that it is the charismatic populism of the two officials that seems more important than the meager track record.

Political scientist Neelanjan Sircar has argued in a recent paper that autocratic populism - the projection of a powerful tribune - is indeed an essential element of this policy. Just as important is the control and systematic influence of the information that reaches the citizen every day. The aim of this manipulation is to reinforce the impression of confusion and uncertainty in today's world and in return to present oneself as a calm pole of stability.

The American ex-president did not succeed in this. With his Twitter thunderstorms and the connected “fakery” factory, he was able to successfully exacerbate the uncertainty of the electorate. But he did not succeed in selling himself against it as a guarantor of stability and leadership.

Modi managed this balancing act. It does it so well that in a country full of economic misery it is not the slogan "Vikaas" - economic development - that is decisive, but rather "Vishwas": trust. It's a good Diwali festival for the prime minister. It remains to be seen whether Lakshmi will play along.