UP elections: Will PM Modi's demonetisation gamble pay off or derail BJP's campaign?

Mark Twain, who happened to be the greatest American humourist of his age, had popularised the following adage, quoting British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics”.

The good, old saying, which is colloquially used to describe the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, has survived down the ages. Though not without reason. It carries sense – even more so in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetised India – particularly in Uttar Pradesh.

Statistics being dished out by official agencies and pro-establishment experts to show that things are moving in the right direction sound hollow at the ground level. Tens of thousands of labourers, artisans and weavers are losing jobs by the day in cities like Agra, Varanasi, Kanpur, Moradabad, Allahabad, Ferozabad and Aligarh.

 UP elections: Will PM Modis demonetisation gamble pay off or derail BJPs campaign?

PM Narendra Modi called demonetisation a yagna against black money. AFP file image

The scene in rural areas is even worse, with farmers finding it tough to buy fertilizers and pesticides. What adds poignancy to the farmers’ woes is the fact that many of them have had to sell their freshly harvested paddy at almost half the price. And there are few takers of the perishables such as fruits and vegetables in mandis. It’s a grim scenario all over poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.

Acute scarcity of cash has hit them all alike. But does it mean that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to lose the upcoming electoral battle? No, not yet, for these three reasons: First, most of the people still believe that things would, as the prime minister promised, improve by the end of this month. They exude hope, pain and patience simultaneously. And they don’t see eye to eye with the Opposition’s prophets of doom.

Second, the anti-BJP forces in the state continue to be a divided lot. The vision of a Bihar type ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) has failed to materialise. The Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress are pulling away in different directions in confusion.

While the BSP thinks that the SP and BJP are hidden friends, SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his lieutenants are busy propagating the fact that the BSP and the BJP had already formed a government together in Lucknow twice. By default, the BJP doesn’t have to face a united opposition that speaks in one concerted voice.

Third, perception and truth are two different things. It’s always perception that wins over truth in politics. That poor Modi is the only He-Man in his government, who is fighting the demon of ‘black money’ is a popular perception. And like it or not, most people believe that the prime minister’s intentions were right. He had taken the decision to demonetise the bigger currencies of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 in national interest, even at the risk of sacrificing his party’s interests.

There are solid reasons for why this perception has gained ground: The BJP has always been known as a party of Brahmins and Banias, in the cow belt states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. And it’s the Banias who happen to be the most aggrieved lot post demonetisation.

Who doesn’t know that this otherwise solid vote-bank of the BJP is beginning to crumble? They had moved away from the saffron camp in Delhi in 2015. And it’s anybody’s guess if they might move further away from the BJP in Uttar Pradesh this time.

Should that happen, it would be disastrous for the saffron outfit, that had got just 15 percent of popular votes with 47 seats in 2012 compared to SP’s 29.15 percent votes with 224 seats and BSP’s 25.91 percent votes with 80 seats.

What’s noteworthy in these figures is that the SP, which had bagged just 97 seats in 2007, could garner an additional 127 seats by securing less than four percent more votes. The BJP does have to go a long way if it wants to secure a majority on its own.

They, however, love to compare their performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when they had got 42 percent of popular votes, with 72 of the total 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. But much water has flown down the Ganga since 2014.

There is another problem that stares in the face of Amit Shah’s party: People think that Modi, his government and party don’t swim along in sync. And rightly so. While the government has faltered hugely on the implementation front, the party continues to be viewed with suspicion even by the young, apolitical supporters of the prime minister.

Let’s not waste time and space by discussing the details. The newspapers are already full of stories that raise question marks over the Union Government’s ability to tackle the crisis on one hand and some of the BJP leaders’ alleged acts of corruption on the other. The party is no longer seen as a party with a difference.

Meanwhile, electioneering has come to a standstill in Uttar Pradesh in the cashless era. Don’t get distracted by the otherwise ostentatious rallies of the prime minister at Agra, Gazipur or Moradabad last month. It’s a completely different picture at the grassroots’ level.

No banners, no buntings, no posters and no movement of SUVs carrying party activists. Maybe, they are all standing in serpentine lines in front of banks and ATMs, or else, are busy finding fertilizers for their farms. Caught in the doldrums, there is no wind left for the election campaign sails to move forward.

All you can feel now is the climatic cold wave that has drowned the riddles: Will the prime minister’s gamble pay off in Uttar Pradesh? Would peoples’ patience last beyond 31 December? And what will happen if it does not? Perhaps, you know the answers.

Updated Date: Dec 10, 2016 14:45:11 IST