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Dissent in BJP ranks over note ban, Amit Shah orders leaders to back Modi

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:37 IST

It's not just the common Indian who is dissatisfied with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's demonetisation plan, and especially its execution.

On Thursday, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's national general secretaries met at the party head office in New Delhi. This was followed by a meeting of party functionaries and MPs at the NDMC Convention Hall. And both meetings, both of which saw party chief Amit Shah in attendance, were reportedly stormy, as many leaders expressed their disgruntlement with the botched implementation of the note ban.

Impact on UP polls

One MP, a senior leader from Uttar Pradesh, went to the extent of saying that the move will result in the BJP's defeat in the upcoming state Assembly polls.

Many other leaders echoed these sentiments, and expressed worries that the masses were getting increasingly angry with the continuing cash crunch.

"People are still not getting money from banks. One cannot compare the situation in rural areas with that in Delhi. Most of these regions have a weak banking system and ATMs are almost non-existent. Only a few ATMs are working even one and a half months after demonetisation. Money is hardly reaching the rural banks. Poor farmers and labourers are facing an acute crisis. How will we ask for votes in the elections under such circumstances?" asked one of the MPs from UP.

"The euphoria generated by the surgical strikes has faded. How will you explain the significance of surgical strikes to people who are struggling to get their money from banks?"

The leader pointed out that the attendance in BJP's Parivartan Yatras across UP had dwindled. These yatras had received a healthy response before demonetisation, but now, they barely make the news.

Key questions

Party leaders asked several key questions during the meeting.

- Will the government be able to control the situation during the next one or two weeks?

- Will the withdrawal limit be increased in the next few days?

- Is the government ready to face the questions likely to be posed when the demonetisation drive completes 50 days on 30 December?

Amit Shah miffed

The meeting with party general secretaries and other functionaries stretched to around four hours. Amit Shah reportedly told the delegates that national interest was above politics, and Modi had taken this decision in the interest of the nation. He emphasised that the party organisation must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the government on this issue.

Shah also sought to placate party leaders by suggesting that the organisation should sensitise the masses on digital transactions and must lead by example. He expressed confidence that the party's 11 crore workers would work in tandem to educate the masses about the benefits of demonetisation.

The party president minced no words in sending the signal that the government had done its job, and now, it was up to the party to fulfil its responsibility. However, his arguments did not cut much ice with the leaders.

In the other meeting, Shah began by answering the queries posed by the leaders. He urged the delegates to wholeheartedly support the government's decision. He repeated that demonetisation would benefit the country. He asked the leaders to explain to the people that the government was not talking about a cashless economy; merely one that was less reliant on cash. But, Shah's answers fell short of satisfying the MPs.

The meeting came to a point where Shah was miffed. According to party sources, he asked the leaders to shut their mouths. "I don't want to listen to anything against Modiji. The entire party must publicise this decision as a success. We cannot afford to send a negative signal to the public," a source quoted Shah as saying during the meeting. The party president further asked the MPs to spend at least a week in their constituencies.

Divisions out in the open

The divisions within the party were evident during these meetings. Leaders from various parts of the country were worried about the negative impact of demonetisation. The delegation from Gujarat was an exception, with most of its leaders unequivocally backing the move.

The opinion of the party's leaders notwithstanding, Shah was confident that demonetisation would work in the BJP's favour in the upcoming polls. He exhorted the leaders to remain steadfast in their defence of the government. He instructed them to ensure that Opposition parties were not able to mislead the people on this issue. He assured that the situation would soon improve.

The BJP's National Executive is slated to meet in Delhi on 6-7 January. The meeting is likely to finalise party's strategy for the Assembly elections in UP, Punjab and other states.

But the matter of demonetisation is likely to dominate the agenda of this meeting as well.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 16 December 2016, 8:45 IST