Taufiq is a worried man. His meat and poultry business in a small village — a good thousand miles from Uttar Pradesh — has been hit by demonetisation as people have less cash to spend on 'extras' like meat. He is already fretting over which way the Muslim vote will swing and settle in UP but he freely confesses: Anyone but the BJP. It's not just a Muslim’s fear of the unknown and an ancient tribal communal mindset to which demonetisation is incidental. He knows his community could decide the winner and for the first time he is taking an interest in another state’s election. A state he has never visited and one that is home to no one he knows.
Flip the coin.
In his plush office in Delhi's Lutyens zone, BJP president Amit Shah has readied his team for just such a scenario. It's everything rolled into one. Taufiq is his dream voter. This voter nudges the majority community towards clanning together, resulting in an en bloc vote against 97 of Mayawati’s chosen Muslims. A fragmented Samajwadi Party and Congress don’t matter. If and when the majority community votes together in Uttar Pradesh, it answers everything: BJP wins, demonetisation is stamped with its approval, people have chosen development over goondaism and of course, the caste carriers have been consigned to flames. It’s a big 'if', but since one swat provides so many answers, Big Media is happy to endorse such a reading and we incessantly hear the words "referendum and endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policies" (read demonetisation).
No, Punjab is not voting for or against demonetisation. They have that drug problem and the Badals don’t they? Goa is struggling with AAP or no AAP. Uttarakhand has already chosen General BC Khanduri since he is the byword for development in those parts and Manipur? Well, is it also voting? Good, they will get a chief minister and government.
Not just the media as a whole, the players themselves believe that it's Uttar Pradesh where it's at. Part of it is also because of the size of the state and numbers, but never in its history had Uttar Pradesh voted so overwhelmingly in favour of one party as it did in 2014. If only it had given BJP 53 instead of 73 seats, perhaps this election would not have assumed such significance. In May 2014, the state had been completely besotted with development and wanted to become Gujarat. It had sold itself to dreams of broad roads, a Metro Rail, 24-hour power and a clean Ganga.
Three years later, it's back to the inextricable mesh of caste, community, Ram Mandir, Article 370 while Akhilesh Yadav has claimed the development agenda. But demonetisation and its sister issues of the war on black money and the subtle 'rich versus poor' narrative in the new Modi speeches has put an additional burden on Uttar Pradesh voters. They will not just vote for a state government, they will effectively decide the country’s economic policy.
The advancement of the Union Budget may have a passing effect. The AIMO (All-India Manufacturers Organisation) has recorded some dire stats: Sixty percent job losses and a 55 percent loss of revenue since November 2016. But its real impact may be felt by April, so demonetisation was well-timed. Money for electioneering may be scarce and may actually be wisely used, although the prime minister's rallies show no such restraint. We may see a fewer choppers and Akhilesh's image-building on state government money has come to a grinding halt. The Congress suddenly finds itself left with no cash to buy more khatiyas and is dependent on seat permutations.
Since Reliance Jio is free till March, I suspect Uttar Pradesh voters may be inundated with guided WhatsApp messages, jokes and videos from all parts of the country aimed at helping them make up their minds about voting. In this the rest of the country, this is playing an active part, almost as active as the Big Media. Mamata Banerjee has jumped in with her 'Modi Hatao Desh Bachao' in Uttar Pradesh, not in Manipur or Goa. Lalu Prasad Yadav is doing his best to keep the Yadavs together in the state. Nitish Kumar has more-or-less decided to play safe and let the vote decide his stance rather than letting his stance affecting the vote. Arvind Kejriwal, after an initial burst against demonetisation, has decided to concentrate his energies in Punjab and Goa where he can possibly beat the BJP, and depending on circumstances, he may interpret it as his own bit of endorsement of anti-demonetisation.
The best results for the BJP may be victory in Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Uttarakhand, but even if it sweeps everything but Uttar Pradesh, it will see it as a disappointment. My presumption is that Taufiq and Shah have derived the same conclusion: Once the BJP wins Uttar Pradesh, 2019 will be a cakewalk.
Both have their hearts in their mouths.
The author is a senior journalist
Updated Date: Jan 10, 2017 08:05 AM