Will note ban damage the BJP?

The BJP no more remains the party of the urban rich; it made inroads into rural India as well.

From the crisis which people faced in changing their currency notes across the country, one might conclude that this has resulted in a decline in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, but that would be making a mistake. One would be making a bigger mistake if s/he concludes that the BJP would lose the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While making any attempt to say what might be the impact of currency exchange policy on the electoral prospects of the BJP in 2019 is extremely difficult, the results of bypolls is one indication. The currency exchange was hardly any issue in these byelections. The ruling parties in most states managed to retain their seats, barring a few exceptions. People voted more on local issues. The concern was more on how the state government was working rather than national issues. People do not seem to have bothered much about the surgical strike on Pakistan or about the currency exchange. The electoral prospects of the BJP during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will depend more on what policies and programmes the government might implement in the remaining period of its term, more so during the last year of its tenure.

The immediate crisis of currency exchange (long queues in banks and ATMs) may be over soon and people may even forget the difficulties they faced in exchanging their hard-earned money. There may be other factors, which might put the BJP in trouble when elections are held in 2019, and if that happens, the issue of currency crisis would work as an icing on the cake. But this issue may not upset the people so much that they would be willing to overthrow the government in the next elections. The unemployment rate is very high, an all-time high during the last seven years, and it seems the currency exchange policy has affected the livelihood of many people, specially small traders and businessmen. If all this results in growing unemployment, this might put the BJP in trouble in 2019, but not the current difficulties people faced in exchanging currency. People agree that implementation of the policy was poor and unplanned, but large numbers of them also believe, it will be beneficial for the people and the country in the long run.

It is true that besides the common man, those badly hit by the currency crisis are traders and the business community who are core supporters of the BJP, and its electoral success depends upon their support. But the victory of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was possible only because the party managed to expand its support base beyond its traditional supporters, amongst the rural, lower and poor class voters and sections of dalits. The findings of the CSDS studies indicate, amongst the poor 24 per cent voted for the BJP while 20 per cent voted for the Congress; while amongst the lower class voters 31 per cent voted for the BJP and 19 per cent for the Congress. The BJP made inroads even amongst dalits and adivasis; amongst dalits 24 per cent voted for the BJP and only 19 per cent for the Congress. Similarly amongst the adivasis 38 per cent voted for the BJP while only 28 per cent voted for the Congress. The BJP no more remains the party of the urban rich; it made inroads into rural India as well.

The poor may be facing problems in exchanging their currency, but at this moment there are no signals that they are unhappy with Mr Modi. To appease the poor and the lower class, Mr Modi has cleverly turned this into his war against the rich and the wealthy by drawing parallels between his strict action with “karak chai”, both not liked by the rich and wealthy. This seems to be going well with the poor and the lower class voters. What works to the advantage of the BJP is the personal popularity of Mr Modi. The findings of the survey conducted by CSDS indicates that more than 60 per cent of voters feel satisfied with Mr Modi. His popularity increases by default when he is compared with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Leaders like Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, J. Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are popular in their own states, but none of them has a cross-state appeal. They together could pose a serious challenge to the BJP but at this moment there are no signs of their coming on one platform.

Even on the current issue of currency exchange there are differences of opinion, while Ms Banerjee and Mr Kejriwal marched to the President house, took out a rally and staged protests in front of the Reserve Bank of India, there are others who expressed support for this new policy. With the BJP having a strong support base at this moment, it is difficult to imagine a single party would be able to defeat it in 2019. But does this mean everything is fine with the BJP and the party should not worry. True, the BJP registered a massive victory in 2014, but one must not forget it won a majority of seats with merely 31 per cent votes, got an undue advantage of the first-past-the-post system and the badly fragmented votes, which were polled against it. The party may not be lucky to get the same number of seats even if it manages to get a similar percentage of votes in 2019. One must not forget the Congress, with 19 per cent votes in 2014, ended up with 44 seats, while the BJP, with 18.6 per cent votes, managed to win 116 Lok Sabha seats in 2009.

Even a slight understanding between the Opposition parties preventing the fragmentation of votes might put the BJP in a tight spot. The results of 2015 Bihar Assembly elections is a most recent example. The BJP should be concerned about not only being badly defeated in New Delhi and Bihar but its declined voteshare even in those states it won following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. People may be happy with Mr Modi as Prime Minister, but there is some decline in the popular rating of the government and surveys indicate people are no more ready to believe, achche din aayenge, a promise which Mr Modi made time and again during his election speeches before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Sections of Indians have started believing that the recent policy of currency exchange may help in bringing about achche din, but will that happen? I have doubts about that. And if that does not happen, the expectations with this government would decline rapidly. But we have to wait and watch for some more time.

( Source : Columnist )
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