The Budget, advanced to 1 February from the traditional 28 February, will certainly impact the voter mood in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and in other poll-bound states. For, not only the middle- and low-income groups, especially the salaried classes, but the poor and the rural communities will be its focus. The Finance Minister’s task has been made easier by the twin benefits of notebandi. One, the gain from actually extinguished currency, which at Rs 1 lakh crore, is nothing to be sniffed at. And two, the sharp spurt in revenue as more and more businesses feel obliged to go legit and pay their due to society.
Also, the Budget will duly reflect the sharp pro-poor turn the BJP has taken under Narendra Modi. The fact that the Prime Minister seems increasingly to echo the rhetoric of the Congress leaders in the 1970s and 1980s has not gone unnoticed. This has left the party’s core educated, middle class constituency a bit perplexed. Particularly, the trading community, as also captains of industry and commerce feel let down.
They cannot believe that instead of advancing further the liberal, reformist agenda, the Modi government has mainly engaged in tightening the nuts and bolts of the system—plugging leaks, digitising delivery, cutting flab, and generally ensuring an efficient administration. Come to think of it, even the big-bang demonetisation was part of the overall design to make the system more honest, more transparent.
How this carefully calibrated pro-poor shift will impact the outcome in the coming Assembly elections, remains to be seen. Yet, the BJP reckons its chances in UP and Goa, and with the Akalis, in Punjab as well. Let us explain.
In UP, contrary to the conventional wisdom that the non-split in the Samajwadi Party and its near-certain alliance with the Congress will hurt it, the BJP believes that its chances may have brightened after the emergence of Akhilesh Yadav as the undisputed numero uno of his party. One, this will ensure that the Muslim vote largely stays with the SP, to that extent putting paid to Mayawati’s chances of staging a comeback. Yet, the still simmering internal strife can only damage the SP prospects.
Aside from a well-oiled organisational set-up from the block level up, right up to the state and Central—party chief Amit Shah is nothing but a most proficient backroom organisational man—the BJP is banking on the Modi factor. It sees notebandi as a poll-winner. A vast majority of the voters, especially among the poor and other less-privileged sections, support the Prime Minister for his bold initiative against black money.
In UP, the BJP is confident of emerging as the single largest party, only a few short of the half-way mark, if not with an outright majority.
Mayawati was its nearest challenger until notebandi hit her hard, personally and politically. She is hard put to assemble an all-embracing caste combination, but aside from her own Jatav caste voters, the relationship with all other castes remains purely transactional, depending on tickets. That explains why she has nominated nearly a hundred Muslims, whose first loyalty is with Maulana Mulayam. While the SP relies on the usual Yadav-Muslim jugalbandi, the BJP has managed to create a rainbow of virtually all castes, with the OBCs and upper castes at its core. As for the Congress, the proposed alliance with the SP has come as a godsend; on its own, it would have been a total disaster.
In sum, the BJP fancies its chances in UP. And of an outright victory in Goa. In Punjab, it reckons that it might be in for a third straight win, only if AAP manages to bag at least 20-odd seats.
Should the Arvind Kejriwal-controlled, always noisy but essentially hollow, outfit crumble totally, ending up with fewer than ten seats, the Akali-BJP combine fear that there could be no stopping Captain Amarinder Singh’s return to power yet again.
MODI-BASHING FOR COVERING ILLEGALITIES
A much-related apocryphal story has it that Pandit Nehru was badgered by a gardener in Teen Murti House, which then served as the prime ministerial abode, to get his son a “government job”. One day, as the said gardener handed Panditji the red rose for adorning the lapel of his trademark jacket, he again broached the subject about his son’s employment. Getting really exasperated, India’s first Prime Minister is said to have ticked off the gardener: “Listen, I cannot get him employed even as a peon in the government I head, but, only if you insist, I can have him appointed a Cabinet minister.”
Panditji’s maali can be excused for being ignorant about the limits to the power of a Prime Minster. But, at least, Arvind Kejriwal, who was in the Indian Revenue Service before Anna Hazare catapulted him into public life, is expected to know full well that a government, any government cannot run without some rules, some procedures.
Yet, if the Delhi government chose to ride rough shod over all established rules and due procedures just so the AAP can bestow favours, financial and others, on its own supporters and relatives, mala fide cannot be ruled out. By playing victim, Kejriwal and Co convince no one.
If you appoint your wife’s brother-in-law—jijaji—in a key slot, or a minister anoints his own daughter an adviser, or, the Delhi Women’s Commission finds lucrative jobs for nearly a hundred close friends and supporters without following any procedures, you are asking for trouble. Or, for that matter, appointing 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries in order to ensure their loyalty. Or giving Rs 1.5 crore to a media consultancy firm, without any rules, for building up the image of Kejriwal. All these are arbitrary acts with no legal sanction.
No amount of wailing that “Modi is after us” is going to help. For all his claims to serve the people without personal gain, the truth is that one of the very first acts of Kejriwal upon becoming Chief Minister was to raise four-fold the salary and perks of the Delhi MLAs. Kejriwal seems to value money more than any other politician—remember he himself had sought to quit government service without, first, paying back nearly Rs 8 lakh owed by him.
Yes, it is true that the Central government agencies show extraordinary zeal in pursuing wrongdoers in AAP. But then when you claim to be lily-white, and abuse everyone else in the foulest language, you should be prepared to prove your honesty—or give up the pretence of being anything different from all others.
The truth is that the AAP crowd is more thuggish, more corrupt than the usual run of politicians, with most decent people like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan and the two public-spirited Lok Sabha members having been thrown out by the AAP Fuehrer Kejriwal, early in the party’s short career.