In a clear departure from the past, the local body elections to 212 municipal councils and panchayats in Maharashtra are veering around demonetisation instead of local issues. The ‘bijli, sadak, pani’ slogan has given way to a currency debate across districts gearing for local polls. The top leaders across mainstream parties such as Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and BJP have embarked on a high-profile campaign where demonetisation of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes has emerged as the main poll plank.
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In the last 72 hours, it has become evident that BJP is facing isolation even as there is a regrouping of Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena making currency replacement a weapon to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the local body polls. All the parties have drawn up elaborate strategies on what should be their talking point.
The BJP has decided to put up a spirited defence in support of currency replacement as a historic move to combat corruption and terrorism. However, insiders indicated that prolonged hardships to the agriculture sector has become a matter of concern. As a result, they have decided to swing into mid-course corrections to provide more sops to farmers apart from allowing use of old notes for seed purchase, ahead of the Rabi season.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, in rallies held across Marathwada, Vidarbha, Konkan and North Maharashtra described demonetisation as a step in the national interest. “All of us who are determined to fight corruption and terrorism should support demonestisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. And those who are opposing it should ask the question, whose interest are they serving?” said the CM.
The state BJP believes the initial euphoria in support of Modi if retained would work magic for the party in the local elections to be held between November 27 and January 8. However, they are also worried about the consequences if ATMs don’t operate to full capacity in the next two weeks as public mood cannot be taken for granted. Sensing hardship to the common man due to cash shortage in banks, Congress, NCP and Sena are trying to exploit sentiments for political mileage.
NCP president Sharad Pawar, after praising Modi for the demonetisation, was forced to take a critical view in less than seven days. Not surprisingly, Pawar said, “There is no logic behind the decision. If Rs 400 crore is fake out of Rs 16 lakh crore notes in circulation, what is the rationale to replace it entirely without adequate preparations and money.”
A senior NCP state leader said, “Tactically, it makes no sense for us to sing laurels for Modi. It would go against our support base. Instead, we have to escalate anti-Modi campaign.” The NCP believes demonetisation connects better across sections in both rural and urban areas compared to the development plank.
The Shiv Sena has indicated that there are many sections including traders who are facing problems in offloading their cash component and it would be easy to win them to their fold. Sena president Uddhav Thackeray has directed the leaders to keep the currency issue on the boil to create anti-BJP sentiments and take advantage of it in the local body polls.
Thackeray said, “Modi’s decision has inconvenienced the common people who have hard earned money. It has not hurt those who have black money.”
A political manager in the Congress said, “This is probably the first local polls where PM’s decision has become the central issue.” According to Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, “Modi’s decision is against the poor and middle-class. It has not made any impact on the rich.” Congress leaders Sachin Sawant described the reforms as economic emergency.
Although no party is sure which way individuals will cast their votes, all parties are unanimous in stating that the issue of currency holds appeal across sections, communities and regions.
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