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Note ban puts BJP/RSS on back foot in UP

By Radhika Ramaseshan
February 22, 2017 10:05 IST
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'Initially, most people willingly stood for hours in queues to withdraw cash because they believed that after 50 days, black money would come out, some big men would be punished and perhaps jailed. Again, nothing happened.'
'Now the talk is that small people have been punished while the rich and the powerful have got away.'
'The RSS is not going out of its way to counter the view. Let the BJP explain.'
Radhika Ramaseshan reports from UP.

Narendra Modi campaigns in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, February 16, 2017

What is uniformly noticeable among Bharatiya Janata Party voters and supporters was their defensiveness each time the notebandi issue cropped up.

The BJP's local offices, which in 2014 brimmed with people prematurely celebrating Narendra Modi's victory before counting, were muted.

A young party official of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh provenance in Rampur, who had his nose to the grindstone when the Lok Sabha polls were underway, admitted he "lost interest" this time.

"I have nothing to say to our voters when they pose uncomfortable questions on demonetisation. I am packing my bags and taking a vacation in my village."

The RSS official's main worry was demonetisation had begun to "chip away" at Prime Minister Modi's image.

"Modiji has invested much personal and political capital in it, but people ask me, 'Does he not understand our hardships? Why did he make us suffer?'"

In Moradabad, a senior RSS functionary stressed the Centre did not seize the opportunities to mediate and mitigate people's "distress."

"On December 31, we eagerly awaited the PM's televised speech, believing he would announce or hint at certain remedies. Nothing came. Then the Budget arrived. Farmers expected a loan waiver, small traders looked forward to some relief. There was nothing."

"Initially, most people willingly stood for hours in queues to withdraw cash because they believed that after 50 days, black money would come out, some big men would be punished and perhaps jailed. Again, nothing happened."

"Now the talk is that small people have been punished while the rich and the powerful have got away. The RSS is not going out of its way to counter the view. Let the BJP explain," he said.

The RSS functionary said he tried to tell the BJP's central leaders to stop the income tax department from sending "indiscriminate" notices, seeking explanations for the bank deposits made after November 8 within a stipulated time.

"I said this is outright harassment. If the PM wanted to do it, he should have waited till the elections were over."

Some BJP votaries held the bureaucracy and not the political executive culpable for the fallout of the note ban.

Rasik Deep Singh, in the construction business in Saharanpur, said, "The masses are not educated enough to appreciate the long-term benefits of Modiji's move. Each time I listen to him, I get back my moral strength."

Compounding the BJP's problems were two other factors: Delhi's 'interference' at the cost of sidelining Uttar Pradesh leaders and complaints against Lok Sabha members.

In Rampur, for instance, the recall value of incumbent MP Naipal Singh was abysmally low.

People remembered Rajendra Sharma, who won on a BJP ticket in 1991 and thought he was their representative.

In Moradabad, the BJP and the RSS sounded furious with the MP, Sarvesh Kumar Singh, for 'lobbying' and getting a ticket for his son, Sushant Singh, for the Barhapur assembly seat.

"Genuine claims were overlooked to accommodate the MP's son. The state BJP is working to get him defeated," a local functionary said.

In Bijnor, the opinion about the MP, Kunwar Bhartendra Singh, was he "preferred to live in his bungalow in Mussoorie" and surface during an election, "holding a peepal sapling in one hand and patting a calf with the other to win Hindu votes."

The only MP who was commended was Kanwar Singh Tanwar of Amroha. He reportedly spends his weekends in the town, supervising health services and organising mass marriages for the poor.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Vijay Shankhnad rally in support of Bharatiya Janata Party candidates in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, February 16, 2017. Photograph: Sandeep Pal

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