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Will BJP fall into own trap in UP?

Anand Sahay is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
Published : Jan 16, 2017, 1:44 am IST
Updated : Jan 16, 2017, 6:52 am IST

The RSS is at war with itself in UP and with other Hindu extremists and Mr Shah has no props he can rely on in the state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi

In every speech he makes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accuses his political opponents of being corrupt and of having built their political careers on black money, and pretends that he himself and his side are pure.

He is very angry because the Congress and others challenge him to speak the truth about the effects of demonetisation. They call him to account and ask him to acknowledge the grim reality that this policy has snatched the food from the plate of the poor and neutered the businessman and capitalist, wreaking havoc on the nation’s economy.

The PM’s Sancho Panza Amit Shah, who has been heading the BJP in near-brutal fashion by squelching any point of view other than his own, has gone so far as to propose that those who criticise demonetisation are anti-national.

Both these gentlemen who are in the eye of the storm, and who will suffer a cruel loss of dignity and authority if coming poll results are not up to expectations, need to be reminded that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s first reaction after the PM’s dramatic demonetisation speech on November 8 was that it was the “first time” that Mr Modi had “acted like a PM”.

The government was being given the benefit of the doubt.

At that stage, the Congress leader’s only worry was that if Mr Modi had scrapped the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, why had he announced the arrival of new Rs 2,000 notes (since black money is stacked in paper currency of high value)? It was a fair question. But there was no answer.

Mr Gandhi’s scepticism about the policy, his sharp criticisms, and his campaign, which upsets the BJP so much, came later — only when each passing day revealed new negative facets of demonetisation that the government refused to address, choosing instead to hide behind a cloak of self-righteousness.

It was evident that, to begin with, the country desired to give the PM a chance. But this man who is blessed with extraordinary powers of circumlocution, obfuscation and insinuation of inaccuracies to achieve the desired effect, simply refused to still the doubts of Parliament on leading questions relating to his policy on black money and corruption — which had by then begun to look like vague, contrived slogans. The man had feet of clay and it appeared he did not wish these exposed in the House.

His chorus boys kept up the noise and attacked the Opposition. But without finesse, they also pursued their mission of ducking the issue. For his part Mr Modi was probably just taking care not to utter falsehoods in Parliament. That has consequences. The floor of the House is not like a public rally where anything goes.

However, all this is now history. Now it is mostly academic to enquire if the people of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most significant state politically where Assembly elections are due next month, are excited about demonetisation or disgusted and angry with it. The plain truth is this is not going to be a poll determinant.

The centre of gravity in UP’s election politics shifted fundamentally once its young chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav, made up his mind to jettison his father’s old support system — brother Shivpal and bag boy Amar Singh, the repugnant symbols of the ancien régime. With that he was mostly clear of anti-incumbency in the broad sense.

This happened weeks ago, but the BJP didn’t keep its eye on the ball. The RSS is at war with itself in UP and with other Hindu extremists and Mr Shah has no props he can rely on in the state.

And how badly advised the PM has been! Even at his recent Lucknow rally, he reserved his sharpest barbs for the BSP’s Mayawati, thinking she was the main competition. The rally itself, which he proclaimed was his largest ever, was a sea of glum, unresponsive faces. The BJP’s own visual feed, supplied to television channels, told the story of listlessness and petty rivalries among local leaders.

Those of them who do not get the party’s go-ahead to fight the polls, or can’t get tickets for their family, are not expected to sulk in a corner. They will be active saboteurs. No other party is so badly placed, though each has some trouble on those lines.

Unlike any BJP or BSP leader, the UP CM enjoys the image of being genuinely development-oriented and of being trans-caste. He is not a Yadav chieftain who will wield the lathi in the rural badlands against social and political opponents. He has also won kudos for not letting the hoods on board even in the name of fighting communalism, which basically meant thriving on the political symbolism of letting minority gangsters be, an art that his father Mulayam Singh Yadav had perfected.

Along with the supporting cast of the Congress and Ajit Singh’s RLD in the western districts of UP — but unlikely without them at this stage — the chief minister appears to have the wind behind him.

Potentially, it is he who is seen as the one who can clean the Augean stables, not Mr Modi with all the tall talk of rooting out corruption. A man who flew to New Delhi in 2014 to take the oath as Prime Minister in the private plane of a controversial industrialist will be laughed out of court if he seeks to deepen the pretence of being Mr Clean.

The BJP, at its national executive meet in New Delhi last week, chose to be supercilious and uncaring. Not having a choice, nor the nerve to question the Prime Minister, it gave its endorsement to Mr Modi’s demonetisation, but chose to wrap it in religious imagery — calling the terrible effects of demonetisation, when people had to stand in long, frustrating queues for nothing, a “sacred movement”. This showed the saffron party just did not have its ear to the ground.

The people of UP fell for the Pied Piper’s alluring tune about the “Gujarat model” in 2014. This time seems different. The fake “surgical strike” against Pakistan and then demonetisation, were meant to raise a cheer, but they raise a snicker instead. Mr Modi laid a morality trap for his opponents but can fall in it himself.

Tags: narendra modi, black money, demonetisation, rahul gandhi