The campaign trail in poll bound Uttar Pradesh has taken a severe beating as enthusiasm dropped among the now cashless party workers following demonetisation on 8 November that declared old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 to be invalid. Cashless party workers are no longer keen to attend the rallies of their leaders and the sale of publicity materials like flags, posters, banners and caps is said to have dipped almost 75% in the last two weeks. In UP, almost 95% election expenditure by the political parties is conducted in cash. Some political parties like Bahujan Samaj Party are said to have their entire political funds in cash.
Notably, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign, including its talked about Parivartan Yatra, is going on vigorously. All other parties such as Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party have cancelled some of their planned political events owing to the cash crunch. The SP has even stopped Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s much touted “Vikas Se Vijay Ki Aur Rath Yatra” which was to cover the entire state.
“The cash crisis has not only affected the political parties but it has led to complete chaos in the state. It has seriously imperilled the existence of small scale businesses. Election campaigning is linked to such small businesses. We have to reschedule many of our political programmes. But our spirit has not been dampened and our workers are determined to face these woes,” Rajendra Chaudhary, a senior SP minister and spokesman, told this correspondent.
Chaudhary also alleged that the Central government’s demonetisation move is aimed to harm political parties like the SP: “We are a party of subaltern social groups and are largely networked among general masses of the state and hence this crisis is affecting the lives of our supporters. The BJP had planned beforehand for this crisis and they seem to have exchanged their cash with new currency. See the lavish expenditure on their rallies.”
The SP purchases most of its publicity material from Mohan Agrawal’s shop in front of the party’s office at Vikramaditya Marg, Lucknow. Agarwal, who is one the largest suppliers of poll publicity material in the capital, said that his business has recorded a sharp fall: “Buyers have vanished, and orders are few,” Agarwal. Arup Agarwal, another manufacturer and supplier of election canvassing material, said that the tailspin in his business may last till December end.
The Bahujan Samaj Party too is said to have been hit hard. According to rumour, the probable candidates for the Assembly elections have been asked to take back their “donations to the party and collect new currency”. But the party vehemently refuted such charges. “The BSP is suffering as the whole country is suffering because of this ill-conceived move. The poor are suffering and a major section of our supporters are poor. But it has united the people against the BJP and the ruling SP which has wreaked havoc on the people by ordering the police to lathicharge those lining up in queues outside the banks. Behenji (Mayawati) is a leading voice against this move. The suffering people of the state will rally behind her and our campaign will pick up again after the brief halt. No candidate has been asked to collect new currency for the party. All such reports are utter rubbish,” Munqad Ali, a senior BSP leader, told this newspaper.
The BJP, whose Parivartan Yatra is making tour to various stations in the state, refuted that the party has collected a lot of new currency to spend on its campaign.
“The BJP never distributes money even among its own workers. The workers come to attend party events on their own. People have welcomed PM Modi’s demonetisation programme and are patiently bearing with the current currency crisis,” Keshav Prasad Maurya, BJP’s UP unit president, told this correspondent. Maurya didn’t answer how cash for the high-octane BJP events has been managed.
Amid the currency crisis, the BJP has launched a massive political campaign which entails roping in around 15,000 party workers to visit every village panchayat in the state. The party has also planned to install 15,000 akansha patties (aspiration boxes) in all districts to list people’s grievances. Seventy five high-tech LED publicity raths will tour in all the districts of the state. Young workers of the party will be given 2,000 GPS-enabled motorbikes to campaign door-to-door.
The party will also organise 1500 video conferences with women in different parts of the state. All these arrangements will obviously demand a lot of cash in the new currency.
The Congress, which organised an expensive rally for its president Sonia Gandhi in Allahabad this week, is also unhappy with the cash crunch. Senior Congress leader P.L. Punia said, “This crisis is exposing the BJP’s anti-people policies and Congress will gain from this resentment of the people. This in itself a campaign for the party in the state,” Punia told The Sunday Guardian. He didn’t comment on how cash for big rallies like that of Sonia Gandhi’s was organised.