The debate might have finally been put to rest on Monday. Three years ago, India unveiled a new methodology to study its Gross Domestic Product output, immediately showing the current government in a better light and raising questions about its accuracy. This week, the Centre was to put out details of the back series, which would reveal GDP growth numbers for previous years using this methodology. The government even called reporters to a press conference. Then, at the last minute, it was cancelled.

The official line is that the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and the NITI Aayog, which were to jointly release the data, held a round-table with experts, who raised questions about some of the details. As a consequence, they decided to hold more consultations. Unofficially, reports have suggested that the government was concerned about what the growth numbers for previous administrations would look like. A panel from the National Statistical Commission put out a draft report earlier this year that showed double-digit GDP growth under the Congress-run United Progressive Alliance, with hasty, embarrassed reactions from the government.

Regardless of what the figures actually look like, this last-minute change inevitably raises eyebrows, especially for a government that has always been so tetchy about its economic performance. But it now seems to be falling into a pattern that reflects the nervousness of a government that is facing re-election next year. The party is flailing about in response to allegations about crony capitalism or even corruption in the Rafale deal to buy fighter planes from France. It spent weeks refusing to intervene on rising fuel prices and the rupee’s concomitant slide, only to change tack and jump in, to little effect. It has been engaged in an unseemly, public squabble with the Reserve Bank of India. More than 60 bureaucrats have written to the Comptroller and Auditor General expressing concern over the “partisan” delay in audit reports covering the Rafale deal and the effects of the decision to demonetise 86% of India’s currency two years ago.

Few have failed to recogise that the Modi government’s policies have undermined a range of India’s institutions. What is unexpected is the sledgehammer that the government is using. Would a competent government, even if it were trying to torture the statistics to provide a favourable picture, first announce a press conference about GDP numbers and then cancel it? Would a Centre with a clear game plan take weeks to clarify that it does not want to raid the RBI’s reserves? Would a well-ordered Centre first announce talks with Pakistan, then cancel them the very next day?

Modi’s strong decisive leadership was supposed to be the consolation prize of voting in a prime minister whose politics is based on communal division. Instead, events have made it clear that, despite voting for “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (Development for all), India has been received social polarisation, little development and an authoritarian government that is obsessed about manicuring its image regardless of the ground reality.