Demon factor in Assembly polls

TALKING POINT

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Madhusudhana Rao S

With the announcement of Assembly elections to five States, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre and the main opposition Congress and regional parties have to draw new battle lines either to retain or clinch political power from rivals.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on November 8 rendering Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes invalid, all the opposition parties have been campaigning against Modi and termed his move as anti-poor and undemocratic. They likened the demonetization to financial emergency without any gains for common man. On the other hand, the opposition, particularly Congress and the Left, allege Modi’s action — thoughtless, ill-conceived, etc. — is only to benefit Adanis and Ambanis, corporate chains and e-retailers and digital payment companies like Paytm.

An unabated vilification campaign against Modi, unleashed by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal and Delhi chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal respectively, has been going on to convince the people that the PM’s move is nothing but robbing the people of their hard-earned money and turning them paupers.

The opposition’s single target in their anti-BJP campaign has remained Modi so far. How far the opposition has been able to put across Modi’s real or purported intentions to the public is anyone’s guess. But the fact remains, despite deaths in queues in front of post offices, banks and ATMs, and criticism about the way the demonetization is being implemented with RBI changing the note-swap and deposit rules by the hour, a majority of people still think that what Modi had done is for the good of the country.

In other words, his support base has remained more or less intact. That means the opposition, in a month’s time, has to fully make use of demonetization as its cannon feed to blast the bastions of BJP and its allies in the five States that are going to polls in February-March. Could they succeed in demolishing the ‘Myth of Modi’ or Brand Modi in the coming elections in which one-fifth of Indian voters exercise their franchise? If they do, at least in one or two states, that will be an endorsement of what the opposition parties have been claiming; if they fail, it is endorsing Modi’s initiatives, including demonetization. Whatever way one interprets it, the polls are seen as a referendum on Modi’s demonetization.

Among the five States that would see political fortunes change, Uttar Pradesh is crucial for both BJP and the ruling Samajwadi Party.  Another party with equal stake is former Chief Minister Mayawati’s Bahujana Samajwadi Party (BSP). As of now, Congress matters little and that party’s glory in India’s biggest State had gone with Indira Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi has been trying to revive the party in Nehru-Gandhi citadel in fits and starts. The Congress high command itself is confused over its role in UP and how to go about its repair job.

Having failed to revive Congress fortunes in UP, the Grand Old Party has toyed with the idea of roping in Priyanka Gandhi. But there is little indication now that she is interested in politics and work as actively as her brother Rahul. Congress party’s chief ministerial face Sheila Dixit is a spent force that none would like to reckon with. And, we are yet to hear about Rahul Gandhi who is out of the country! So, Congress will be happy to pillion-ride a regional party to secure a respectable number of seats in 403-member UP Assembly.

The family feud in the ruling Samajwadi Party is threatening to mar its chances of giving a tough fight to BJP and SP, which are trying hard to fill the expected vacuum created by SP if the party splits between Papa Mulayam and beta Akhilesh. If they can’t patch up soon, chances are the young man has better chances of upsetting the saffron party’s apple cart. At the same time, a split can divide the vote and help a third force. Whether the father-son duo remains united or divided, the most important factor for the ruling party is to instill confidence and create trust among voters that the ruling Yadav clan can deliver goods. Family political feuds have already dented SP’s image and the party veterans have to give SP a facelift and dress it up for the election showdown.  With the clock ticking, could the SP leaders mend their fences as fast as possible?

A day after the Election Commission made known the poll dates, Mayawati unveiled the fist list of poll candidates as if she was waiting for the announcement. This time, she is banking on Muslim vote as well as her traditional Dalit support base.

Elsewhere, In Punjab, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance is aiming a hat-trick, but Arvind Kejriwal can play spoilsport with his AAP’s entry into the political game.

In Uttarakhand where Congress Chief Minister Harish Rawat is clinging to his seat precariously with BJP giving him a tough time, it’s an uphill task for Congress stalwarts to retain the party’s hold on that State.

Manipur can prove to be as tough as a mountain battle for Congress and BJP. With Assam in the saffron party’s kitty, BJP is gung ho to capture power from Congress in this State. But the current and perennial problems of ethnic tensions and road blockades can be dampeners for BJP.

Goa, the tourist paradise, may not give heavenly bliss to those who jump into the fray. Though ruled by BJP, its local ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) may not sail with the BJP. At the same time, Congress is in no position to fight the saffron party. Unless anti-incumbency factor plays a major role, BJP can perform a political hat-trick.

Since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, 14 of 29 States in India are ruled by BJP either alone or with regional allies. Of the other 15 States, two or three States enjoy cordial ties with BJP. If BJP manages to capture power in UP, it will give a big boost to the party in terms of strength. But the biggest advantage it gets is BJP can substantially increase its strength in Rajya Sabha where it is in minority now. Should it happen, it will be a cakewalk for BJP to pass central legislations without hassle.

What will be the central plank of non-BJP parties to fight the saffron party? Their obvious choice is demonetization. The question being asked is, can the opposition parties, particularly Congress, stonewall BJP in the five Assembly elections on the note ban issue? Unfortunately, they themselves are divided and incoherent in putting forward their arguments effectively. In fact, of late, most of the leaders have run out of ideas and their ramblings make us wonder what they are trying to convey to the public.

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