As the debate over demonetisation rages in the country, campaigning by the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress and to some extent the Samajwadi Party in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh seems to have been crippled by the sudden cash crunch.
According to Sanjay Singh, the convenor of UP Election Watch, an estimated Rs 500 crore of black money was spent during the 2012 assembly election in the state. Not surprisingly, the withdrawal of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes from circulation has had a "visible impact" on election-related expenditure, Sanjay added.
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The BSP seems to have been hit the hardest, at least at this stage. The party had paid Rs 1,26,11,000 to Prakash Packagers in Lucknow to make posters, banners and flags for the last election. Rs 4,98,50,000 was paid to a printer based in Delhi for the same purpose.
If Prakash Bhargava, the proprietor of Prakash Packagers, is to be believed, the BSP has not placed any order with him for posters, banners and flags for the upcoming election.
Indeed, as Sanjay Singh pointed out, the BSP's publicity on the ground this time is surprisingly poor. Public meetings being conducted by senior leaders such as Satish Mishra too have been low-key.
For campaigning in the last assembly elections in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, the BSP, as a national party, had spent over Rs 290 crore. The Election Commission of India's website doesn't provide a state-wise break-up of election expenditure but given the size of UP and its political importance, one can safely assume that the bulk of this money was spent here.
To provide helicopters and aircraft, the party had hired the services of Arrow Aircraft Sales and Charters and Aerotech Aviation. While Arrow was paid Rs 3,31,18,952, Aerotech earned Rs 1,04,98,427.
UP Election Watch believes that it would be difficult for the BSP to match last election's expenditure even though the expenses mentioned above are audited figures, and likely don't reflect the actual expenses which could be much higher.
As per the Election Commission's records, the Samajwadi Party, a regional party, had spent only Rs 20 crore during the 2012 election - Rs 10,15,33,699 on publicity and Rs 9,79,44,871 on travel. It's difficult to believe that the party spent such a meagre amount on an election, which was a watershed moment for Akhilesh Yadav's political career.
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This time, the SP has the advantage of being the ruling party. The advantage shows in the government's publicity drive which may help the party keep its poll expenses low. The state has unofficially spent an estimated Rs 600 crore. In contrast, in the interim budget for 2012-13 presented by the previous BSP regime, only Rs 22.5 crore was earmarked for publicity.
The SP regime has flooded the media with ads. Films on Akhilesh and his government's achievements at important crossings and on TV channels, and almost daily full page ads in newspapers and magazines of all shapes and sizes have ensured a near year-long publicity overdrive, giving the party an advantage over the BSP and the Congress.
The party has roped in Bollywood singers like Kailash Kher to make ditties praising the government. These can be heard on FM radio and seen on TV as well. The party is also planning a major social media push in the near future.
Despite the publicity blitz, however, the SP's poll campaign is stuck, partly due to the squabbling in the family and partly because it has had to direct its big guns towards New Delhi to join the chorus against Narendra Modi over the currency withdrawal. Akhilesh himself has met the prime minister to try and persuade him to rollback the decision.
The Congress is the weakest of the lot. After Rahul Gandhi's Kisan Yatra, the party's campaign has fallen silent. It's likely to be revived only after Priyanka Vadra impending advent on the scene.
This has left the field open for the BJP, whose Parivartan Yatras is currently criss-crossing the state. In between, Modi and the party's national president Amit Shah have been addressing rallies to keep the momentum going.
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