Going Beyond Demonetization

Since Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttrakhand are on the threshold of Assembly elections, much of the success or failure of demonetization depends upon electoral gains in these polls

By Anil Anand

In the true spirit of a bubbling democracy every move of any government be it the centre or the states, is viewed through the prism of political gains or losses. It is more so because the governments have been planning and executing policies and programs with the prime target of attracting the electorate for immediate gains and not for long term goals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move at demonetization of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes was in no way detached from this syndrome. The self-prescribed 50-day deadline of Modi to usher the country in a new era bereft of corruption and black money has drawn to close and all the while every word uttered by the ruling BJP-led alliance at the Centre, BJP itself and the opposition parties has been loaded with talk of political gains or losses.

Since the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh along with Punjab and Uttrakhand are on the threshold of Assembly elections, the success or failure of demonetization was being assessed in terms of electoral gains. After all UP which contributes highest number Lok Sabha members and has the equally highest numbers of 400 plus Assembly seats, would be a make or mar elections for BJP as well as the premier opposition party the Congress. Existence of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party and their relevance in the national polity would largely depend on how these parties perform in the Assembly elections.

The outcome of coming phase of polls could have a strong bearing on 2019 Lok Sabha elections. That is why the debate on the impact or relevance of demonetization to the outcome of these elections. There is no doubt that demonetization would be a key issue both for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance as well as the brigade of opposition parties. The index of things to come was visible in the manner the political parties postured following declaration of civic election results in Chandigarh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

For a moment it seemed that the public outcry in the face of poor implementation of the demonetization that led to lot of hardships would prove electorally tough for the BJP in these localized elections. But that was not to be. The resounding victory of BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal combine in the 26-seat Chandigarh civic body, which was preceded by victories in Gujarat and Maharashtra, suddenly became a topic of national importance.

These are still early days to predict whether BJP would be able to score similar success in UP and Punjab. But the manner in which the top leadership of the saffron party, including PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, reacted to the civic body victory made it clear that the coming battles would be fought on demonetization, for or against.

More than Gujarat and Maharashtra, the Chandigarh phenomenon needs to be studied closely for different reasons. Firstly and more importantly to decipher the public mindset in the face of hardships perpetrated by ill equipped banking system to deliver after demonetization and repeated shifting of goal post by the Modi dispensation. The second aspect would be whether this outcome impact Punjab Assembly elections as it is just at a stone’s throw and even UP and Uttrakhand are not too far.

If it is an indication of support for Modi’s demonetization plan despite its failure on ground, certainly the interregnum between expiry of 50-day deadline and holding of elections would be more crucial for him to deliver and mitigate people’s problems. The BJP is already on course to a high octane propaganda based on civic election victories which is likely to grow shriller as the poll date draws nearer. But for BJP to actually perform and even build on the recent electoral victories, the team Modi would have to pull a faster one to win at least UP if not Punjab where much would depend on how the party’s ally SAD really clicked with the people.

Definitely, UP is going to be the mother of all elections. Naturally, the stakes are going to be as high for the BJP as for other key political players the Congress, SP and the BSP. It is more so for the Congress as it is the only party out of three which has a pan Indian presence and potential to nationally challenge the BJP. The Chandigarh debacle and none-too-impressive performance of the Congress in Gujarat and Maharashtra has brought some urgency for the century-old party to try and firm up its alliances in UP at the earliest as despite all efforts it is not in a position to go solo and challenge the BJP’s might.

It would be equally important for the Congress high command to curb the factional feuds which prevail not only in the poll bound states but also elsewhere. The factional fights and tendency of the group leaders to pull each other down has proved to be the Congress’ bane.

It would be equally incumbent upon SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati to seriously think in terms of a grand-alliance of all opposition parties to prevent division of votes. This unity would become a greater necessity if people, as has happened in Chandigarh, are willing to bear the hardships of demonetization and give more time to Modi.

The opposition particularly the Congress would have to devise a new idiom to convince the people not only about the immediate pitfalls of the demonetization but also its long term impact. After all Modi is selling a futuristic dream.