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Note ban becoming key election issue in Punjab, Cong & AAP on the offensive

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:45 IST

The Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP are attributing their victory in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation elections to the note ban, but it wasn't.

However, the Central government's decision to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes is threatening to turn into the main issue in the run up to the Punjab Assembly elections.

The Congress has been raising the issue in a major way, with its top leaders trying to capture the public sentiment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's move.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), too, has been attacking both Modi and the BJP for the misery that demonetisation has brought upon the masses.

This has left BJP's ally SAD in a lurch. The Akalis have made feeble voices on the inconvenience caused to the people, but have politically been supporting the BJP's move.

Farmers and industry badly hit

The chief reason why demonetisation is becoming the main issue is that it is linked to other issues that have dominated the political discourse till now.

For example, both the Congress and AAP have played up farmer suicides and farm distress during their campaigns. Demonetisation has added to the farmers' problems, right from the procurement of seeds to being exploited by commission agents. This has further fuelled their anger against the ruling Akali-BJP combine.

The same has been the case with trade and industry, which were already complaining about the high-handedness of the state government.

With demonetisation further slowing down industrial production and sales, besides the businesses of small traders being badly hit, the fall out is politically an advantage to the Congress and the AAP.

Farmers are the most important constituency in Punjab, and no political party can afford to ignore them, especially when elections are just two months away. The worst-hit farmers are those who are grow seeds and vegetables.

They foresee a slump, and feel that both growing and selling of crops this season would be a big challenge.

"We are not able to work as cash rotation is a must for us. I used employ 20 to 60 workers in my fields, depending on the work, where I grow saplings of onions, tomato and chilli. With no money to pay the labourers and uncertainty over produce returns, I am left in a lurch," said a farmer from a village in Patiala.

Similarly, small industrialists point out that their labourers have gone back to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, since they were unable to pay them in cash. These industrialists also cite the cash crunch as a factor in their inability to purchase raw material, including scrap.

Amarinder's full-fledged attack

On the political front, state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has been the most vocal on the issue, targeting not only the ruling combine in the state but also Modi.

In his most recent attack, he cornered Modi over the issues of demonetisation and corruption, seeking the Prime Minister's response to the serious allegations made against him by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a rally in Mehsana, Gujarat.

Amarinder said that instead of running away, Modi should come clean on these charges, as also on the truth behind the ill-conceived demonetisation policy that has plunged the nation into a deep financial crisis, while leaving millions of Indians facing unprecedented woes.

He rejected the Chandigarh civic body poll result as a referendum on demonetisation, and a precursor to the Punjab Assembly polls, saying the issues in the Union Territory, which is controlled by the Central government cannot be compared to those being faced by the Punjab electorate.

Pointing to the lay-offs and closure of industries in Ludhiana and Amritsar, Amarinder said people across Punjab had been suffering immensely due to the cash crunch triggered by demonetisation.

Amarinder also urged the Supreme Court to put a stay on the frequently changing demonetisation directives of the Modi government, saying these U-turns amounted to fraud and breach of trust against the people.

He urged the apex court to intervene, to rescue the common people from the plethora of problems created by Modi's 'ill-planned, anti-people' move, which has already wrecked many lives, even pushing several people to commit suicide. Amarinder accused Modi and his team of pushing the country into a state of financial anarchy and chaos by not following any rules in the matter of demonetisation.

He said that from the war hysteria whipped up two months ago to the demonetisation shocker that it unleashed against the people of India, the Modi government seemed to be moving concertedly in the direction of triggering unrest in the country, in order to further its political interests and to protect its friends in the industry and in its party.

Congress joins hands with small industrialists

Newspapers in the region were splashed with pictures of industrialists having locked up their units in Amritsar and handing over the keys to the Deputy Commissioner, blaming demonetisation for forcing them to close their units. This was followed by a major protest by industrialists in Ludhiana.

BJP leader and state planning board vice-chairman Professor Rajinder Bhandari was not allowed to speak at the event by the agitated industrialists, when he tried to defend the Modi government and demonetisation.

Congress vice-president in Punjab, Sunil Jakhar, along with other senior leaders, had held a protest dharna in Ludhiana in support of the industries and traders who were agitating against demonetisation.

Jakhar said demonetisation had badly hit the consumption-driven economy in Punjab, with the withdrawal of liquidity triggering the collapse of every self-made entrepreneur in the state, along with the industries, which had already laid off thousands of workers in the recent months, initially due to the exploitative polices of the local leadership and now due to demonetisation.

Questioning the silence of the Akalis on the issue, Jakhar said: "Neither Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal nor Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal have the guts to take a stand against Modi or their ally, the BJP."

He said Sukhbir's plea to the Central government to solve the cash problem was 'too little, too late'.

AAP calls it a scam, Badal defends

The AAP leadership, too, has been raising the issue of demonetisation at all political rallies being held across Punjab.

The leaders are toeing the line taken by the party's national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, that demonetisation is a 'scam' running into thousands of crores.

The Akalis stand badly cornered on the issue, but, having decided to go along with the BJP, they are compelled to defend Modi's decision.

CM Badal has said that the decision has been taken in the larger interests of the country, and after the initial hiccups, it would prove to be a boon for the country.

Saying that the situation would normalise soon, he has promised to personally urge Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to enhance the flow of cash in the banks for facilitating people.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 24 December 2016, 7:41 IST