Prime Minister Narendra Modi first hinted at a surgical strike against the black money during a function for the disabled in Vadodara on October 22. He told the gathering in Gujarati that his government was able to generate Rs 65,000 crore under the voluntary income disclosure scheme a few weeks earlier. “Imagine, if a surgical strike was made against black money, how much money will tumble out,” he told a receptive audience.
When Modi did the ‘strike’ on November 8, he chose himself to announce it, thus becoming the face of the new measure, unlike in the covert operation in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which he left to the Army and external affairs ministry officials to talk about.
Modi had played his biggest political gamble since he became prime minister. His strategy has been to communicate directly to the people and keep the focus on the poor. In the first 15 days since he announced the demonetisation, Modi turned emotional twice—once even publicly during a rally in Goa, seeking support for his move. He evoked his humble origins as a tea seller as he asked for support from the public, promising the difficulties would not last longer than 50 days.
Modi has been trying to elicit support from the people for his initiative. The strategy was visible when he asked the people to give him feedback on the scheme on his mobile app, in which ten carefully worded questions ask people to react on the anti-corruption initiatives taken by his government and its impact. According to the initial responses released by Modi through his website, more than 90 per cent of the respondents rated the government’s move above four stars.
In the days to come, the BJP’s MPs and MLAs will fan out, talking to the people and helping them overcome the difficulties. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has asked its cadre to help people standing in queues outside banks. Protests are being organised against those who have spoken against the move, suggesting that leaders like Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee were out to save the corrupt.
BJP strategists argue that the electoral impact of the drive may be felt in some pockets, as people have been inconvenienced, but Modi will emerge its biggest beneficiary. “This single step had countered the charge that the Modi government was for the rich,” said a party leader, adding that the poor and the farmers would eventually stand behind the prime minister.
Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have been trying to keep the narrative around the benefits for the poor and targeting the rich. But, as the united opposition mounted an offensive against the government in Parliament and outside, focusing on the plight of the poor, alarm bells started ringing in the party. Some MPs were apprehensive that the situation would take several months to cool down. Many party leaders were concerned about the implementation part of the exercise as they felt it could harm the BJP’s image among the voters, and even negate the gains that were expected from ‘the fight against corruption’.
Probably that was why the party allowed live telecast of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s speech given during the BJP parliamentary meeting—it wanted the message to reach people directly. “What was normal from the last 70 years that some in cash and this much in cheque… but now the Prime Minister has created a new normal… Today, every honest citizen feels that a premium has been given for his honesty,” he told the party MPs. Later, the parliamentary party adopted a resolution supporting the move.
The assembly elections in five states—Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur—will start in February, by when the government is likely to announce several measures in the budget to win over the middle class and lower class. Farmers and traders may also get sops during the election season.
In the just concluded byelections, the ruling parties in different states mostly retained the seats, while the BJP increased its footprint in the northeast. In Shahdol Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP retained the seat, but at a significantly lower victory margin, but in the Nepanagar assembly seat, it increased the margin.
The Prime Minister was quick to acknowledge the results. “I congratulate all BJP karyakartas and leaders for the impressive victories in Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.… I thank people for the continued faith in the BJP and in the BJP’s unwavering focus on development and good governance,” he said in a series of tweets.
BJP leaders have been dubbing the poll results as an approval of demonetisation. BJP national secretary Sidharth Nath Singh said demonetisation would not put the BJP in any disadvantageous position in the upcoming elections. “Public sentiments and emotions and confidence in Prime Minister Modi remain all-time high,” he said. “Common people want the government to fight corruption and, in that process, they are willing to face inconvenience.”