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UP’s mid-term test for PM Modi

  By Vijay Darda | 09-01-2017

The poll schedule for the all important Uttar Pradesh elections has been announced and the D-Day is March 11 when all the results would be known. With almost 20 per cent of the country, this can be seen as a mini-national referendum. At stake is prime minister Narendra Modi’s personal reputation as the chief vote-getter for the ruling BJP. With his demonetisation gambit, Modi has redoubled his personal stakes in these elections. Besides, this is the mid-term of his five-year tenure in office, and the people would deliver their verdict on his performance as well. So, this is in a sense ‘make or break’ election for Modi and neither he nor the BJP can take cover under any other explanation for the verdict that would be out on March 11. Either Modi wins or he loses.

Now given the amount of votes the BJP polled in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 – almost 42 per cent, it would require a hefty swing of anything between 12 and 15 per cent for the BJP to lose the elections. So, the BJP has to merely hold on to its previous vote share to win Uttar Pradesh. It is here that the election management style of the BJP president Amit Shah comes into play. The responsibility to deliver on the ground rests with him. The prime minister would of course address those massive rallies that are his trademark and together the duo would be spearheading the campaign.

It is interesting that the big data from the demonetisation drive shows that 97 per cent of the currency outlawed by prime minister Narendra Modi on the night of November 8, 2016 has come back into the banking system. The RBI is yet to confirm this figure as it is collating data with all the currency chests, but then any figure above 90 per cent is a conclusive proof of the failure of the demonetisation drive. When prime minister Modi had announced the note ban, an impression was created that something like 3 to 4 lakh crore of black money would not come back into the system as the hoarders of this amount would not have the courage to face the Income Tax department, Enforcement Directorate and the banking officials when questioned about the black money. But now the people have come forward with all their money and this shows that they have nothing to hide. This also reinforces the concept that the Indian economy is largely a cash economy and when starved of cash it crumbles.

Yet, there is a lot of good news on the demonetisation front for prime minister and the BJP. In terms of the economy the scheme may be a flop, but in political and perception terms it is a winner. The people by and large are not concerned with the failure of this drive to unearth black money, but they support the scheme as a good initiative by the prime minister and they would benefit from it in the longer run. This should be good enough for the prime minister and the BJP in the context of the UP elections.

The BJP can also draw cheer from the divided state of opposition in Uttar Pradesh where the dispute in the Samajwadi Party between the father and son is yet to be settled. There is no doubt that the bulk of the elected representatives in the party have sided with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, but in any election you cannot really write off a seasoned campaigner and a clever strategist like Mulayam Singh Yadav. His faction would also be in the fray, and there is no way to assess the damage he would be inflicting on Akhilesh’s chances. On his part, the chief minister would try to minimise the damage by teaming up with the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal. In a four-way fight, the additional contribution from these parties has the potential of making a big difference to the final outcome of the elections.

The other major contender for power in the state – the Bahujan Samaj Party – is also keenly watching the developments in the SP. The BSP chief Mayawati has been working on the Dalit-Muslim combination as a route to power in Lucknow. She has always been assured of the 20 per cent Dalit vote, and is now eyeing a big chunk of the 18 per cent Muslim vote. Should this happen, then she would cross the 30 per cent mark in a four-way contest and should be in reckoning for power in the state.However, the Muslim voter is a SP loyalist and is not expected to switch sides easily because of a split in the SP. This is a politically astute voter with a single minded strategy to vote for a candidate who has the ability to defeat the BJP. As a result of this, the Muslim voter could have a constituency specific strategy, and this may deflate the BSP’s ambition of pulling away this chunk of voters due to a split in the SP.

The campaign itself is going to be a high decibel one and pretty controversial at that with the first signs coming from the volatile BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj with his comments about ‘4 wives and 40 children’ being responsible for the population growth in the country. The party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi did promptly issue a statement disassociating the party from such statements. But everyone knows the damage has been done and the tone has been set. The BJP has never shown the inclination to rein in these voices and with the top leadership even endorsing some of these statements, these leaders have a prominent position in the saffron set-up. Such divisive tactics is very much a part of the BJP’s strategy.

So far prime minister Modi has profited from a weak opposition, in that sense the UP polls also offer the opportunity for the opposition to redeem itself and show that it can also offer a challenge to the personal popularity of the prime minister and the BJP’s organisational ability

Before I conclude…

The Supreme Court has done well to ban the use of religion, language, caste and race for the purposes of seeking votes. This would go a long way in removing one of the most vitiating factors in our elections. The promptness with which the district administration of Meerut has acted against the BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj and registered an FIR for violating the model code of conduct shows the long felt need for such a law. Habitual offenders may not be deterred but in general the law would act as a check and reduce the incidence of violation of the law.


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