"Sab taraf ha-ha kaar, ye hai Modi sarkar"
Expect this slogan to resonate through Uttar Pradesh as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political opponents get ready to turn the impending election into a referendum on the NDA government's demonetisation plan.
A month ago, when Modi outlawed currency notes of higher denomination and caught the country by surprise, there was a lot of confusion among opposition parties. Some like Mamata Banerjee wanted complete rollback, some like the Congress and SP wanted to talk about the lack of groundwork before rolling it out and some like Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik supported the strike on black money.
But, with the mood on the ground changing every day, the Opposition seems to have finally decided to contest the election on just one issue — the impact and efficacy of demonetisation. Several news reports and talks within party circles indicate that the Congress and Samajwadi Party are on the verge of an alliance to tap what they perceive as growing anger against Modi's plan. According to DNA, the alliance is being stitched together by Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar.
According to the Hindustan Times, in a bid to ensure that the anti-Modi vote doesn't disintegrate much, Congress is now willing to accept lesser seats than it had originally asked for. It may now settle for 70-75 seats instead of the 100-plus it was bargaining for, the newspaper said.
Till July this year, the Congress was keen to contest the election alone, convinced that it would be able to win a decent number of seats to emerge king-maker in a hung Assembly. Hoping to build on the perceived advantage, it had planned to put Priyanka Gandhi at the forefront of the poll campaign and snare Brahmin voters by projecting Sheila Dixit as the CM candidate. But its dreams of becoming the puppeteer in the Assembly vanished after the poor response to Rahul Gandhi's 'khaat yatra'.
The Samajwadi Party, simultaneously, saw its fortunes dip because of the public fights with the Mulayam parivar, leading to fracas between Akhilesh Yadav, his uncles Shivpal and Ramgopal and senior leader Amar Singh.
The BJP, in the meantime, continued to make rapid gains because of the schism in the Opposition and the euphoria around the 'surgical strikes' on terror pads along the Line of Control. On 8 November, when the PM announced another 'surgical strike' on black money, the BJP seemed set to win the election with a thumping majority.
But, that advantage — though still not completely lost — seems to be dissipating because of the appalling implementation of demonetisation. As people continue to struggle for cash, jobs from the unorganised sector disappear, sales dwindle and the economy struggles, the mood on the ground appears to be changing. And since elections are still a few months away, the Opposition feels the government would lose more ground because of its inability to manage the fall-out of the hasty execution of demonetisation.
The timing of the decision, though perhaps aimed at the elections in UP, may haunt the BJP forever. The decision to outlaw old currency notes was taken in the middle of the wedding season (it ends on Monday) and when farmers were waiting to sell their harvest and sow fresh crops. Had Modi delayed the decision by a few weeks, the impact on farmers and rural economy would have been a little less lethal. But, as veteran journalist Prem Shankar argues, the decision could now be catastrophic for the BJP.
In UP, the rising anger of rural voters hit by currency crunch, migration of labour engaged in the organised sector and farm distress could decisively tilt the equation. To compound the BJP's woes, traders who have supported the BJP's for decades, are enraged because of the disruption caused by demonetisation.
After the initial euphoria, people are now wondering how much of the stated objective of wiping out black money from the market would Modi achieve through demonetisation. With most of the cash in circulation coming back to the banks, the real gains, if any, could be slow and meagre compared to what was initially expected.
The Congress and the Samajwadi Party now sense an opening in the battlefield. They believe an alliance between Yadavs-Muslims and voters angry with demonetisation could strike a telling blow to the BJP and Modi's plan of winning the biggest election of 2017.
Their dreams would of course depend on how Mayawati, who, incidentally, has started attacking the BJP for the suffering unleashed by demonetisation, plays her cards. And on how many aces Modi still has up his sleeve.
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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2016 16:40:58 IST