Demonetisation has scrambled equations in the run-up to crucial UP elections

December 09, 2016 08:13 PM
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On the ground in Uttar Pradesh, all political equations have been thrown out of gear by the vanishing money post-demonetisation. There is anger and the threat of lowgrade violence if the situation does not improve, in some sectors that have been badly hit.

There is equally a level of acceptance among the very poor, who had little to lose anyway and some of whom believe there may be justice down the road if the moneyed classes suffer. There is admiration among the professional classes who see Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the Absolute Leader for whom there is no replacement.

But on current realities it would be fair to say that surprisingly, it is the incumbent regime of Akhilesh Yadav that seems to have a small edge in the triangular battle. There are multiple reasons for this. 

There is complete shock among the baniya community ­ manufacturers, traders, shopkeepers and moneylenders ­ who have traditionally been BJP's financiers and most ardent supporters.

How does one therefore read the political script in a world turned upside down? The 2017 assembly elections had represented the best opportunity for BJP to get power in the state after a quarter century . The last time they had a majority government was in 1991, when the Kalyan Singh regime rode in on the Ram temple wave and rode out after being dismissed following the demolition of the Babri mosque.

Subsequently there were two short lived BJP governments in the state, one led by Ram Prakash Gupta, an old Jan Sangh hand, who was in the CM chair for 351 days, followed by Rajnath Singh who ruled for little over a year till March 2002.

After the virtual sweep of UP Lok Sabha seats in the Modi powered wave of 2014, it makes absolute sense for BJP to have ambitions to capture the state where elections are due in the early part of next year. But since demonetisation has hit its own base hard, the party is currently on unknown territory.

An invented narrative with communal overtones could be created but currently all communities and castes stand side by side in queues. If there is actual delivery of cash into zero balance bank accounts, plus packages to bail out the unorganised sector, farmers and traders, it could still be advantage BJP.

But on current realities it would be fair to say that surprisingly, it is the incumbent regime of Akhilesh Yadav that seems to have a small edge in the triangular battle. There are multiple reasons for this. Presuming that both BSP and SP have found huge wads of notes turn to dust, the difference is that SP is in government, a definite vantage position to change currency and raise fresh funds.

The second reason is more surprising. The feud in the SP family has actually enhanced Akhilesh's image even as it has allocated the blame for all that's wrong with the regime on the unappealing uncles and interlopers.

Akhilesh is young, personable and preparing a presidential style campaign that showcases him (often with his wife, Dimple Yadav who is actually an asset on her own in the campaign). In the age of the Modi brand of politics, Akhilesh has kept the photo op moments for himself. His regime has delivered on electricity and roads besides giving all manner of freebies.

If father Mulayam Singh Yadav once tapped the rustic energy of the backward castes, Akhilesh taps into an aspirational urge of the upwardly mobile. He speaks the language of connectivity and development beyond sectional appeals to caste community groups.

It is hard to find people speak ill of him even if they do not intend to vote for him. Even if he does not retain power, he is a young man with a future in politics.

Equations could further change if SP works on an alliance with Congress. Mulayam is in charge of such arrangements and it's faltered on the question of seats (he's reportedly offered 50 plus to the national party). Yet BJP strategists know that trader Baniya Vaish support could shift to such an alliance as in urban centres like Kanpur, Lucknow and Varanasi, Congress is still the second party after BJP.

If that happens, Mayawati would lose further momentum. At the candidate level there is some palpable unhappiness in BSP over the manner in which they are being asked to convert old currency as opposed to preparing for an election. Besides, it's not clear if the arithmetic will still work for her: she needs to get a section of Muslim votes (19% of the population) or the Brahmins (10%) to add to her solid Dalit base (21%).

In western UP she has traditionally been the main force taking on BJP but minorities elsewhere actually prefer SP even as an older generation hankers for Congress. The Brahmins would stick with BJP unless the Congress looks viable, only possible if an alliance is forged.

Electoral choices change depending on the assessment of which party appears likely to win. On current assessment it's zero balance for everyone, as across parties, leader and cadre are disoriented. In the PM's constituency, Varanasi, the chairman of the Vastra Udyog Sangh, has a profile picture of himself with Modi. But he's laid off thousands of weavers and lost 70% of his business. He believes the PM has been misled and is waiting for a chance to tell him so.

The writer is a political commentator


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