Will corruption emerge as a major poll issue in Uttar Pradesh this time? Despite rhetoric created around issues such as corruption and development in the past, virtually every election has finally boiled down to primordial sentiments of caste and community.
However, this year indications of a break from the tradition writ large. Corruption may become an important election issue, albeit in the garb of demonetisation with the BJP and the opposition leaving no stone unturned to corner each other on the issue.
While the BJP has declared demonetisation as a ‘fight against corruption’ and labelled opponents as ‘worshippers of black money’, the opposition has held note ban responsible for economic slowdown and layoffs and has highlighted the hardships faced by the common man due to the ‘whimsical’ decision.
“It will be clear to the people soon that demonetisation in itself is the century’s biggest scam which was implemented to benefit certain prominent industrial houses close to Modi,” RLD state president Masood Ahmad said.
Addressing the BJP’s national executive in New Delhi last week, BJP president Amit Shah declared that the party sought to make demonetisation the main poll plank in the state assembly elections.
Rahul Gandhi’s Talkatora stadium speech in New Delhi made it amply clear that the Congress would make note ban a core election issue. Former Prime Minister and Congress leader Manmohan Singh termed demonetisation as ‘organised loot’ while Rahul Gandhi during his recent rallies in UP even levelled personal charges against Modi.
Though the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is not contesting UP polls, its leader Arvind Kejariwal, who has often called note ban a financial fraud, has announced he would campaign against the BJP in UP. The two principal parties -- the SP and the BSP -- have made their stance against the move clear from the word go.
In fact, the BJP is upbeat over its success in the by-elections in some states and local body polls in Maharashtra and Haryana even though the elections were held amidst the hullabaloo over note ban. The party feels it enjoys the public support since people feel demonetisation will combat corruption and curb black money.
“Making demonetisation the cornerstone of election and billing it as a fight against corruption suits the BJP. More so in UP for the simple reason that the two main parties, the BSP and the SP, which have cried hoarse over it have faced serious corruption charges from time to time. Public perception does not favour them when it comes to the issue of corruption,” points out SK Sharma, professor of political science in Meerut University.
Probably, this explains why the Prime Minister, while addressing a rally in Lucknow on January 2, taunted the BSP and the SP for being on the same page on the issue of note ban despite being arch-enemies.
Sharma claimed that the BSP’s political graph that was going up before November 8 started falling as Mayawati’s vitriolic attack on demonetisation grew both in and outside the Parliament. “This, somehow, sent a wrong message to the poor who believe that black money holders will lose and they will gain because of the crackdown through demonetisation. The BJP knows this and will make corruption a big issue in the UP election,” he said.
Sharma also cautions that to consider demonetisation as a purely economic decision would be a blunder. “The note ban decision has to do with politics as well. The BJP has cleverly touted this decision as a fight against corruption because corruption is an issue that affects all irrespective of caste and community. The BJP wants to exploit the anti-corruption sentiments of the people to its advantage,” he said.
According to Nand Lal Rajhar, a treasurer with Nav Chetana Producers Ltd, which works with farmers in Ghazipur, “People are fed up with corruption and see the ban as a tool to combat the evil. They have welcomed the decision despite some initial hardships.”
It will be interesting to observe how voters react to the issue during the upcoming polls in the country’s biggest state.
I-T gears up for first elections post demonetisation
The income tax (I-T) department has set up a 24x7 toll free helpline - 1800-180-6555 - to help people report movement of black cash during the seven phased Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections.
The move is important given the renewed focus on black money post demonetisation. Since November 8 midnight, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the currency ban, the I-T, Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the police have seized crores of unaccounted wealth.
This is the first election where all the candidates would be required to open a separate bank account and conduct all poll-related transactions through it to ensure transparency in political funding and spending.
The account number would have to be mentioned at the time of filing nominations.
Demonetisation is likely to impact UP polls as experts expect the move to pull Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency out of circulation just ahead of elections would affect election spending. “Though currency ban would affect the usual splurge candidates indulged in before the polls it would be unrealistic to expect that the black money would be completely wiped out. So there is no way we could let down our guard,” an income tax official said.
Unaccounted cash or black money have always played a role in elections with candidates often accused of ‘luring’ voters through cash. The Election Commission would also deploy expenditure observers to check black money. These expenditure observers would also be from I-T. The Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) are also being geared up to keep an eye on fund movement.
The tax officials are also readying their air intelligence and surveillance units to detect flow of unaccounted wealth. I-T sleuths would also keep a watch on ‘cash movement’ through train at railway stations.
I-T sleuths have also sought assistance from the Railway Protection Force (RPF) in reporting unaccounted cash. Tax officials have also released an e-mail (email@example.com) and a fax number (2209525) to report any “suspicious cash movement.”