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BJP's anti-black money narrative may leave Congress defenceless in run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha polls

With the BJP stepping up its anti-black money agenda, the Congress may find itself increasingly defenceless in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In the face of the binary of 'who helped curb black money and who did not' created by the saffron party, the Congress is likely to find it difficult to answer the questions arising out of it.

Pushing the old narrative around unaccounted cash with new vigour, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday announced the party's decision to celebrate 8 November, 2017, as 'anti-black money' day. Naming demonetisation as a massive drive to clean up the economy he said, "such a massive clean-up operation could not have been achieved by baby steps."

The message between his lines was that the hardship people had to encounter due to the demonetisation was an inevitable cost the society had to bear to achieve a greater good. He also reminded that it was the present regime which had constituted the Special Investigation Team as per the directive of the Supreme Court to bring in black money stashed in foreign accounts.

File image of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

File image of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

"The Supreme Court order to form a SIT was passed in 2011 but was not followed. In 2014, the present government formed it," he said.
He also mentioned a slew of measures the present dispensation had taken to curb black money, from signing information sharing treaties with foreign governments to enforcing the law against Benaami property.

The intent to create the binary was evident in his words: "Congress had adequate opportunity to be in power, and I can't recollect a single significant step that they ever took against black money."

He attempted to pit BJP's demonetisation against Congress' inaction to counter black money while in power. The ball now lies in the Congress' court, as it has to answer convincingly the questions arising out of this binary, like what actions it took to curb black money while it was in power?

Hinting at Congress' complicity as the reason behind its inaction against black money, the finance minister further said, "They (Congress) had reconciled to India living with a shadow economy. It is understandable why this would never be on the political agenda of the Congress leadership."

If one recalls, this is the same anti-black money narrative that made the Congress defenceless in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election held just after the demonetisation drive. It was a narrative the Congress could hardly counter and the BJP waded to power with ease in the state.
People voted for BJP in large numbers even in the face of acute distress caused by demonetisation, in the belief that the move was for a greater good of the nation; to achieve a better future for one and all, sacrifice in the present is indispensable.

BJP's move to celebrate 8 November as anti-black money day is seen as an attempt to refresh this old narrative. Whether the same political story would yield electoral gains similar to that of Uttar Pradesh is anybody's guess. Whether the demonetisation drive really had a clean-up impact on the economy, as suggested by the finance minister, or whether it messed it up, as per the Congress, is still far from being decided.

What is decided, as of now, is that the issue of eradicating black money is going to be the main electoral plank for the BJP yet again in the upcoming Assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Now, the onus of finding a suitable defence to counter this narrative lies with the Congress, especially if it wants to appear as a credible contender. Will it be able to find one this time around? It is still an unanswered question.

Had the BJP not chosen the black money issue as its main political plank, the conditions for the Congress would have been different. For this is an issue in which the Congress failed to make the right noises at the right time. But, interestingly enough, it is the Congress which led the BJP to choose the anti-black money narrative as a poll plank yet again. In the last few election rallies in Gujarat, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi vehemently took on the present regime on the issue of demonetisation and its failure to unearth black money. BJP was left with no option other than building a counter-narrative around black money and demonetisation.

Growing intolerance in the society is causing serious damage to the secular fabric of the nation under the present regime and could serve as an effective poll plank for the Congress to leave the ruling dispensation defenceless. For mob lynchings, and the killing of dissenting intellectuals could provide enough fuel to keep the secular versus communal debate boiling till the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress avoided this debate and rather chose demonetisation and the disruption it caused in the economy as one of its main issues against the BJP. It seems that the Congress mistook demonetisation as the most inflammable ammunition against the BJP. The result of the mistake is evident as the party is now struggling to create a narrative to counter BJP's anti-black money agenda.

This may cost the Congress in the months to come, by leaving it not only defenceless but also issue-less. In case the economy turns around in the next few months, as many including the IMF predict, the memory of the pain inflicted by demonetisation may not remain as poignant in public psyche as it is now. In such a situation, the Congress would lose the narrative it has attempted to weave.


Updated Date: Oct 26, 2017 14:04 PM

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