'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Aman Sethi - “May Need a New PM”: Note Ban’s Rural Supporters Are Losing Faith // BHARAT BHUSHAN - Modi's note ban: How BJP is struggling to defend its reckless boss
“I’m calling because I
can’t take it anymore,” Dhruv Narayan Yadav, a young business correspondent in
Dumri Khas village, Uttar Pradesh, said in a 7 am phone call this week, “I have
no money to distribute, and in a few hours I will have to go to my office and
face an angry crowd.” Narayan is one of
approximately 1.2 lakh young men and women deputed to bring banking services to
the 81 percent of India’s population that still does not have a neighbourhood
bank. Every few days, a local branch is supposed to give him money that he then
distributes to villagers who have an account with him.
met Yadav days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s November 8 2016
announcement that his government was scrapping Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes with
expressed widespread support for the move, reasoning that the presumed
benefits of the policy would eventually outweigh the costs. Now as Prime
Minister’s self-imposed 50-day deadline looms and the cash crunch continues,
rural India’s patience is running out.
After Yadav’s morning
phone call, The Quint called him back when he reached his
office and spoke with the people lined up outside. Their stories - of a farmer
struggling to water his fields, a mobile phone salesman wary of mobile banking,
of a daily wage labourer struggling to feed his family, a bank employee who
fears for his life - explain why demonetisation’s most vociferous supporters
are now losing faith in the policy…
The Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) is suddenly wary of its electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh.
Before demonetisation, it was supremely confident of victory and Prime Minister
Narendra Modi's rallies drew enthusiastic crowds. But Modi's dramatic decision
has put the brakes on his seemingly unstoppable evolution into an irresistible,
larger than life figure. Suddenly, no one is clapping or chanting "Modi,
Modi" as they used to. The damage to the lives of ordinary folk because of
demonetisation, or "notebandi" as it is popularly called, has been
media is unanimous that the Indian government has botched up big time. The
social media that had been crucial in fabricating Modi's image is now chipping
away at it with viral videos, memes and messages mocking his decision. There
are few from within the party who want to tell the leadership that its image is
however, know what lack of cash means. Even those with money in the bank have
been made to feel poor. It is no surprise therefore that Modi's public meeting
at Bahraich earlier this month was cancelled and he addressed it through a
mobile phone after he learnt that attendance was thin at the rally grounds. Demonetisation
has become such a drag on the BJP's poll prospects that Modi spent most of his
speech at Kanpur on 19 December, announcing harebrained daily and weekly
lottery schemes incentivising digital transactions.
Whether the cashless
voters of UP will vote with their feet in the upcoming Assembly elections
remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that as of now demonetisation
and its shifting objectives - initially the aim was to curb black money but
soon it transmogrified into creating a cashless economy - are not cutting any
ice with the people.
Reports from the
ground suggest that traders are unhappy as business has shrunk to less than
one-third. The votes of the trading community - traditionally loyal supporters
of the BJP - may get divided this time around with some voting for other
parties and others choosing not to vote at all.
claim that misery of demonetisation will take some more time to manifest itself
in the rural areas of UP. There, the misery, they point out is being caused not
by standing in bank or ATM queues but by shrinking demand and the prospect of
unemployment as young migrant workers return from the cities and semi-urban
centres. Shortage of cash has meant that shopkeepers and traders have started
buying less because they are selling less. They may continue to keep their
casual workers on the rolls because of loyalty but after a month or two, they
will be forced to let them go. That is when the pain of demonetisation will
BACKLASH FROM WITHIN
BJP president Amit
Shah who once elicited pure fear among party MPs and office bearers has had to
face their anger at a recent meeting in Delhi. The meeting which lasted three
hours, drew praise for demonetisation from party representatives from Gujarat
but those from Delhi and UP were extremely critical of the move. Not used to
being questioned, Shah lost his cool when some of them pointed to the negative
impact of demonetisation.
Two MPs from UP, who
stood up to tell him how the party's electoral prospects had been eroded were
virtually told to shut up. They were reminded that they were weak candidates
who had won because of the Modi wave - and they should not be criticising their
benefactor. He told those present
that he would not hear anything against demonetisation and that the BJP would
have to continue saying that the move was success. "If you repeat it a
hundred times, it will become the truth (Sau baar bologe to sach ho jayega),"
they were apparently told.
party propaganda, there is fear in the BJP that the party will have to pay for
the Prime Minister's recklessness. Many think that neither digitisation nor the
orchestrated enthusiasm at Modi's rallies might translate into votes. In the
Bihar election campaign too Modi had addressed a spate of well-attended rallies
but they had not converted into votes, they point out.
The BJP won 71 Lok
Sabha seats in the 2014 general election. This roughly translates into 339
Assembly segments. There is no way that the party can repeat its performance of
May 2014 in the assembly elections due in early 2017. Amit Shah had set a more
realistic target of victory in 3 Assembly segments for each MP in his
constituency - each Lok Sabha constituency has four to five Assembly segments.
That should theoretically take the BJP's tally to 213 - a clear majority in the
403 member Assembly. However, politics does not work in such predictable
Party insiders say
that internal poll surveys in UP before and after demonetisation show both the
BJP and Bahujan Samaj Party slipping and surprisingly, a substantial
improvement in the fortunes of the Samajwadi Party. Party insiders say that
five years of anti-incumbency does not seem to have stuck to Akhilesh Yadav.
WHY UP MATTERS
Doing well in the UP
elections is important for the BJP. If the BJP were to win UP, it would provide
a big boost to the party and its undisputed leader, Narendra Modi. Critics, who
thought that Modi had peaked and was now on decline, would be proven wrong and
his electoral chances for the general election in 2019 would brighten
Between UP and Bihar,
the BJP has 93 parliamentary seats in the present Lok Sabha. It will have to
retain most of them to win the 2019 general election. If the BJP wins in the UP
Assembly election, then Modi will have a lot of freedom to play around with the
selection of candidates - besides picking candidates from his party he would
also be able to attract winnable candidates from the BSP and the SP. The minor
downside of a UP victory would be that Modi would have to defend his record not
only at the Centre but also in Lucknow.
If however, the BJP
were to lose the UP Assembly election, and the party is not able to retain even
50 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats in UP and Bihar, then the chances of it
forming the next government in Delhi will be extremely bleak. The UP defeat
will impact the mood of the country elsewhere too as people will take it as
further evidence of Modi being on his way down. His public appeal will fade.
There are two factors
that could still go in Modi's favour though. One, although the BJP is facing
negativity after demonetisation, the index of Opposition unity remains weak. So
it is difficult to say who will benefit from the BJP's loss.
Second, Modi has a
record of defying all odds. A senior BJP leader once described him as a
successful event manager. His events and tamashas dovetail into each other - a
new one begins unfolding even before the first one is over. He can still pull a
rabbit out of his hat - say with mass scale loan waivers for farmers, social
security for the rural unemployed, tax sops for traders and businesses, and
reduced income tax for the middle class.
He is also capable of
talking up an external threat to divert national attention from internal
issues. A neutered party may still be forced to hail him in the hope that this
will help it to hang on to political power. There are dangers, however, of
defending, believing in and even celebrating a reckless boss. Fearlessness,
impulsive behaviour and a risk-taking ability may lead to success in politics
some times. However, history also shows that such large scale social
manipulation can have dangerous consequences for the polity and eventually even
for those who perpetrate it.