The move by Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes has left poll-bound Punjab flummoxed over the question - how would it impact the forthcoming Assembly polls?
It is a well known fact that Punjab elections are marked by purchase of votes and there is massive circulation of money all through the campaign period and the polls. But now with these particular notes being put of circulation, what new modes will political parties adopt to bribe voters?
One thing that most of the political observers and even functionaries are confidant of is that there is no way that political currency will not be doing the rounds this time too. They are sure that parties will definitely find an alternative.
"There is a saying that politics is the last resort of scoundrels. We are living in times when even scoundrels are fleeing politics. So it is obvious that the political parties will not desist from using money that has been stashed till now," said a veteran functionary of one of the prime political parties.
It is being pointed out that the measures taken by the political parties to distribute money will be slightly advanced.
"They have enough time on their hands. They will easily transfer lakhs in the names of their secretaries, other office bearers and senior workers who will get these currency notes exchanged in banks during the 50-day window period available. Even after the 50-day window, they would have enough time as Rs 2000 currency note would be in circulation much before the polls," the functionary added.
He said that had the decision to demonetise currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 come just 15 days before the polls, there would have been a problem.
Gifts over money this time?
A senior political observer pointed, "Election money is money to burn. Even the political parties know that there is a 40% leakage when money is disbursed for the voters. The parties would advance the distribution of money in a de-centralised manner. They are likely to hand over money to their candidates at the earliest asking him or her to manage its distribution. So what used to take place at later stages will just be done in advance."
He also pointed out that the parties may resort to giving gifts like bicycles or other articles to the voters instead of cash.
It is also being said that there would be a problem in parties where leaders have hung on to the stashed cash instead of depositing money in the party fund in a legal manner.
Veteran political analyst Dr Pramod Kumar of Institute of Development and Communication at Chandigarh says that while this decision of demonetisation is expected to reduce inflation and lead to reduction in property prices, its political impact would be that it would lead to more austerity in polls.
But at the same time, he points out that this would lead to a model of politics promoted by Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) National Convener Arvind Kejriwal where the route taken by the ruling party is through the state exchequer and the ruling party is at an advantage.
"While the ruling party can announce sops, distribute things at the cost of the state exchequer till the polls are announced, the Opposition parties resort to issuing promissory notes saying that they would pay voters in one form or the other when they win. Both ways the voter is being bribed. This is what happens in the private sector where promises for a future are made. What we are witnessing in Punjab is a new mode of polls. The state might give any number of advertisements, making payments to publications well in advance, and thus use a lot of money through state exchequer," Kumar said.
It's all about the money
Veteran political analyst and observer Jagtar Singh is of the opinion that Punjab is bound to witness its costliest election ever.
"The estimates that we have pegs an expenditure of Rs 10 crore per candidate. This is irrespective of the party. Punjab is expected to witness every vote being purchased for as much as Rs 20,000. The culture of purchasing votes was started by the Akalis under Parkash Singh Badal in the late 1960s and other parties followed. During the last Lok Sabha polls there were areas where Rs 1 lakh was paid for every five votes in a family in the Malwa area."
He pointed out that in places like Ludhiana, the practice has been to gift refrigerators and even motorcycles to families to purchase votes.
He disclosed that from the late 1990s, Punjab has witnessed a new trend in the use of money. While earlier votes were purchased for a particular candidate, the practice started ensured that people do not go to vote after being paid money. This has been the case particularly involving the weaker sections of society.
Jagtar told Catch, "Accepting cash for votes is common for people of all classes in Punjab. Every candidate purchases 10,000 to 20,000 votes."
He said that money power would definitely play its role this time as well. What needs to be seen is how the politicians use it this time.
Meanwhile, the political slug fest over the decision of Modi has already begun with Congress President Captain Amarinder Singh firing the first salvo at the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and AAP.
Amarinder has said that as far as the impact of the move on the Punjab elections is concerned, the Congress had no cause for concern. It is the ruling SAD and AAP that needs to worry.
"While Badals stand to lose thousands of crores of rupees of their black money as a result of the demonetisation, Kejriwal would end up losing hundreds of crores," he said.
The general perception among the people in Punjab is that while the Badal family and the SAD face heavy anti-incumbency in the state, they splurge money to improve their political fortunes.
Both the SAD and the Congress have also been attacking AAP over its source of funding, particularly on the issue of money coming in from abroad.
Even as allegations and counter allegations are expected to continue to fly in the coming days, money is expected to leave its mark in the outcome of the forthcoming Assembly polls in the state.