NEW DELHI: As the battleground shifted from Parliament to poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, it appears Indian politics has been put on fast forward. The BJP and Congress — the second runner-up and the last in the race to the State Assembly last time — started with a top-level faceoff over ‘note bandi’ on Monday. Almost as a rehearsal for 2019.
It’s not that the big regional rivals, ruling SP and its challenger BSP, have given the two national players a walkover. It’s just that the heat over the currency crisis had Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi slugging it out to prove who was more ‘imaandar’ (honest). And whose heart bled more for the poor. It’s a personal competition as much as an electoral contest.
As one thing seems to be clear, even before the Election Commission announces the dates of the February-March poll, that the contest is not about caste, but about the economy.
Nothing since the liberalisation of the economy or the nationalisation of banks, has come to occupy the centre-stage of discourse the way demonetisation has. From the ATM queue to the village tea shop, if there is one conversation that has overwhelmed all else, it is the currency note — the legality, illegality, availability and shortage of it that touches every single life within the Republic of India. Whether it’s UP on Monday or Punjab on another day — the election this time will be fought on demonetisation and its after effects.
That’s what makes a face-off between the BJP and the Congress inevitable. SP supremo Mulayam Singh, bushwhacked by the PM’s November 8 announcement, has only given a muffled call for a partial rollback. And BSP’s Mayawati, though far more vocal than usual, has been targeting the PM more than the policy.
Since the note ban is seen as a big gamble for Modi, the first big election after it has itself turned into a high-risk game. A Modi versus the rest contest.