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Note Ban’s Failure Has Forced BJP to Abandon It as a Poll Issue

How has the media not noticed the BJP’s reluctance to use note ban as a poll plank, write SK Sood.

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Note Ban’s Failure Has Forced BJP to Abandon It as a Poll Issue
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Note Ban’s Failure Has Forced BJP to Abandon It as a Poll Issue

On 8 November 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation. A year later, the BJP will mark the event by celebrating “anti-black money” day, while the combined Opposition has decided to mark it as a “black day” and commemorate the barsi of the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.

It would be interesting to watch the developments which coincide with crucial assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

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Experts have divergent opinions about demonetisation’s repercussions, with most, including an Economics Nobel laureate, dubbing the exercise as a heavy blow that has drastically shrunk economic growth, disrupted the informal economy and created a severe unemployment crisis in the country.

Expectedly, experts will keep arguing about demonetisation’s impact till the cows come home.

I shall limit myself to analyse whether the oft-repeated statement by supporters of the ruling dispensation — that the common people, despite being the worst affected, have actually stood by the BJP and supported demonetisation.

The proponents state that the common man, impressed by Modi’s purity of intent and decisiveness to deal with the black money menace, has chosen to overlook individual hardship and supported the government in its initiative.

On the face of it, this contention appears to be correct: the BJP on its own secured a three-fourth majority in the Uttar Pradesh assembly and an easy victory in Uttarakhand in the elections held in March, only about two to three months after the exercise was implemented.

Demonetisation supporters claim that if the common people were opposed to the note ban, they would not have given the BJP a landslide victory with as many as 312 assembly seats in UP.

Even the Opposition attributes the phenomenon to the forbearance of the Indian masses.

Stats Tell a Different Story

I, however, contend that most people did not support the move. This comes from my own interactions with people who stood in long queues at banks as also from facts and figures.

In spite of extensive propaganda about the so-called ‘public support’, the facts tell a different story and therefore we need to analyse the events post-demonetisation, especially, the elections in five state assemblies.

The landslide for the BJP in UP cannot hide the facts. The people were too distressed to have pardoned the BJP. It must be recalled that elections were held across five states simultaneously in March 2017.

The BJP’s three-fourth majority in UP probably overshadowed its heavy loss in Punjab. The BJP, in fact, also lost in Goa.

It’s a different story that lethargy on the part of the Congress’ political managers and manipulation by the BJP led to formation of a government headed by Manohar Parrikar. Like Goa, in Manipur too the convention was broken by not extending an invitation to the Congress even though it was the single largest party. So, did voters in Goa, Manipur and Punjab support demonetisation?

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BJP’s UP Sweep Not Linked to Demonetisation

Careful analysis of data of the UP elections will establish beyond doubt that demonetisation did not get support there either. Otherwise, why would the BJP’s vote share decline from 42.3 percent in the 2014 parliamentary elections to 39.7 percent in the 2016 assembly elections?

The Opposition’s combined vote percentage of 50.3% (SP 22.8 percent, BSP 21.8 percent and Congress 6.3 percent), on the other hand, is more or less the same as in 2014.

The BJP’s spectacular majority in UP was because of several factors, demonetisation not being one of them. The party’s lead of almost 14 percent over the Congress and the SP (which the fought election together) was extremely difficult to bridge. It could have been done only if the third party – the BSP – was to collaborate with them and completely reverse the results.

The second factor that favoured the BJP happened to be forbearance of the voters.

BJP’s Reluctance to Address Note Ban

The implications of demonetisation were yet to fully unravel when the assembly elections took place, and those who still voted for the BJP were either die-hard supporters or were still euphoric about Modi’s intentions and decisiveness.

Had the elections been held even a couple of months later, a large bulk of the voters would have realised the folly of demonetisation. The fall in vote share for the BJP would have been greater.

Thirdly, the fact that Modi entered the poll arena with all guns blazing and also resorted to blatant communal campaigning by invoking “shamshan vs kabristan” and “electricity during Eid vs Deepawali”, indicated the panic in the BJP.

A farmer and a small businessman – both belonging to UP – stated unequivocally that the elections were fought on communal lines and they themselves had voted according to those sentiments.

No Sir, demonetisation did not go down well with the people and that is the reason the BJP remains reluctant to use it as a poll plank and is heavily dependent on “cows, Ram Mandir, Hindu Asmita or identity” in its campaigns for the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

The failure of the media to highlight this remains a mystery. Either they have not noticed it or, if they have, they have chosen to remain silent. What is more intriguing is the Opposition’s reluctance to bring into sharp focus demonetisation’s negative impact.

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(The writer is a former BSF additional director-general. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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