Why Delhi media is not telling you that BJP is going to lose elections
Modi cannot sweep away accumulated grievances and fears of the urban and rural poor and middle classes.
There are two different narratives that can be read into the ongoing Assembly elections.
Many news channels in Delhi are speculating how Narendra Modi and his allies will lead in the Assemblies going to the polls. However, there is relatively little discussion about the BJP prospects in Goa and Punjab where they are the ruling party.
A prominent channel is already predicting that after his wins in the majority of state Assemblies, Modi will go on to win the 2019 general elections. Surely, a partisan prediction.
But no major mention of notebandi, the SP-Congress alliance, internal squabbles within the NDA alliance and communal polarisation can be heard from the channel's newsreaders. For major anchors, it's almost as if those just did not happen.
However, if we take into account what local journalists have been consistently reporting, the election narrative appears to be quite different.
Demonetisation is a major issue, whether it is in Goa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand or Manipur. The fact that PM Modi did not keep his promise of restoring the demonetised 86 per cent cash component of the economy, has led to further scepticism about the NDA's self-proclaimed "pro-people policies".
Many observers and local journalists have noted that although some people are reluctant to speak openly about notebandi, once any one person from any group speaks up about the issue, others at least nod, if not speak. In reports from Ayodhya, it became evident that although the relative affluent shopkeepers chose to remain neutral or silent on the issue, despite the substantial losses they had incurred due to demonetisation, the hawkers and smaller cornerstores in the gullies and nooks and crannies of the city were rather frank in their criticism.
The BJP has clearly lost much of their Bania vote-bank as well as some of their stalwarts. Veterans like Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon, who were close to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, have stayed away from the poll booths, and the campaign. A sizeable number of BJP candidates are relatively unknown. Apparently, Amit Shah and other strategists overestimated the sole impact of the Modi campaign.Have Amit Shah and other strategists overestimated the sole impact of the Modi campaign? [Photo: India Today]
The local problems, political equations and the reputation of candidates are important inputs into the winning chances of a candidate. In Goa, for example, all prospective MLAs must have the backing of their panchayats. In Manipur, local politics as well as the impact a candidate may have in the prospective ministry, are important factors.
So what is likely to be the overall scenario?
Firstly, notebandi and delayed remonetisation is a major concern everywhere. India is largely a cash economy. PM Modi's pseudo-clever tactic of shifting the government position from a promise of early remonetisation, to an emphasis on cashless economy, to a digital economy, hasn't worked.
In the first place, no country including Sweden and Norway, are completely cashless. Despite a strong social welfare system, the cash component has to be factored in while accessing bank accounts and other mechanisms of cash deposits. As the World Bank famously once said, there really is "no free lunch".
On credit card purchases, the seller has to pay 2-3 per cent tax surcharge. So, "plastic" cards and other digital payment methods are not ultimately cashless. Paytm, as Aditya Puri, chairman of HDFC Bank has pointed out, has already lost ?1,651 crore post demonetisation.
Of course, since stakes in these Assembly elections are high, PM Modi has shifted his goal from lavishly praising demonetisation, to claiming development objectives, and most recently, to vulgar and blatant communal polarisation. None of this has had any major impact. But it goes on to show just how much more powers the Election Commission needs to wield to ensure a truly fair and free election.
Recently, during an election rally in Uttar Pradesh, PM Modi promised to waive off all farmer loans after the elections. It seems that the Election Commission can do only so much. The press highlighted this issue, pointing out the flagrant violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Then, the BJP denied it and all was forgotten. In effect, the unbiased reportage from the battlegrounds either gets lost or buried under the white noise.
What does this indicate for the various states going to the polls?
It seems very likely that Goa (where I was in December-January) will be lost by the BJP, as will Punjab in which the BJP will trail the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress. The SP-Congress alliance appears ahead in Uttar Pradesh, but the BSP has not lost its base. A guesstimate is either a SP-Congress government, or less likely a BJP-BSP government.
But if the BSP aligns with the BJP, it is likely to pay in 2019. But as the saying goes, two years in politics is a long time. The BJP strength has significantly diminished since 2014. Manipur is likely to be dominated by the regional parties to the continued detriment of the BJP. Uttarakhand will be hard fought between the Congress and the BJP MLAs who broke with the Congress.
In any case, no good news for the BJP. As the proverb goes: "one swallow does not a summer make". One Modi cannot sweep away accumulated grievances and fears of the urban and rural poor and middle classes.
As one of the greatest ever US presidents, Abraham Lincoln, had once said: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time."