The dates of Assembly elections for the poll-bound states of Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur have been announced. The BJP is trying its best to take undue advantage of its position as the ruling party at the Centre in these state elections. The entire demonetization exercise was timed keeping these crucial elections in mind. The address made by the Prime Minister after the completion of the first fifty days of post-demonetization pain sounded much like a budget speech of the Finance Minister. If that was not enough, now the government will also have the liberty to present this year’s annual budget on February 1 on the eve of the elections and use it to influence the electorate.
Assembly elections always have their own state-specific contexts. To be sure, the coming elections will also be no different. Punjab and Goa, both currently being ruled by the BJP/NDA, that go to the polls on February 4 have been suffering enormously as a result of the disastrous policies of the state and central governments. If the acute agrarian crisis, drug problem and mafiadom of the Akali Dal in various economic and social spheres have proved to be the bane of Punjab, Goa has been hit hard by corporate plunder, the communal agenda of the Sangh brigade and the glaring misrule of the BJP government. Uttarakhand has been reeling under environmental disaster and the competitive corruption of the Congress and the BJP. AFSPA continues to overshadow life in Manipur, and the situation is now further vitiated by the BJP’s sinister power games and deals with various insurgent outfits in the North-East.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s biggest province and the problems facing the state are also of a magnitude commensurate with the size of the state. The Samajwadi Party had come to power with the promise of ‘peace’ and ‘development’, but in five years it has inflicted yet another period of heightened crimes and economic distress on the people. The BJP has had a free hand in unleashing its vicious agenda of anti-Muslim communal polarisation and violence which enabled it to walk away with more than seventy Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections. And now with the SP split down the middle thanks to the intriguing drama and division within the Mulayam Singh Yadav clan, the political climate in UP has become uncertain like never before in recent years.
Despite the state-specific context of Assembly elections, the forthcoming round will have a very strong connotation for the central government and the agenda and style of governance unleashed by the Modi regime. Demonetization has affected the entire country on a scale unlike any other economic measure in living memory. The cascading effect of the disastrous summary ban on cash is becoming clear with every passing day. The predominantly cash-dependent informal sector has taken the biggest hit and this is the sector that accounts for the largest share of employment and livelihood in the country. And on top of the crippling impact of the cash crunch, the coercive push for a cashless economy is creating a veritable crisis of existence for sizable sections of the informal and small-scale economy.
Given the extensive linkages between the informal sector and the organised sector, the disastrous impact of a crippled informal sector, along with an already chronically and critically crisis-ridden agriculture, on the overall economy is not difficult to assess. In a quick survey conducted by our student and worker comrades among the working people and students of Delhi, almost 92% of the more than 53,000 respondents termed demonetization a disaster. Yet, the Sangh brigade and the entire propaganda machinery of the Modi regime are trying their best to mislead the people, blaming the banks for the cash crunch and sowing fresh illusions among the masses in the name of teaching a lesson to the corrupt and the rich.
While mobilising the people against the disastrous impact of demonetization we must therefore engage in close political interaction with all sections of the affected people. The coming round of elections will be seen as a veritable referendum on the central government and we must make every effort to ensure a decisive rebuff to the fascist offensive of the Modi regime in this referendum.