The BJP in Gujarat appears to be worried over increasing public disquiet following the demonetisation move, with the party holding a series of meetings since last Friday to find ways to tackle the problem. In one such meeting on Monday with senior leaders and MLAs, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had sounded a sense of urgency to deal with the impact of cash crunch.
He had spoken about how the party “was not afraid of situations, but found solutions”, and that the BJP was not a party of “despair” but of “systems”.
Party leaders are worried that shortage of cash may dwarf a slew of populist decisions taken by the Rupani government to win back a number of disgruntled sections before the Assembly elections in December 2017. The BJP, which had suffered debacle in the rural areas in the local body elections last November due to the Patidar quota agitation, had managed to gain some ground, before it was again hit by the Dalit protest following the Una flogging incident in July this year.
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BJP’s Gujarat unit feels that the demonetisation announcement, coming no sooner than the party had begun chest-thumping over the surgical strikes along the LoC, has put the party in a damage control mode, with billboards defending the decision as the “promised” fight against black money replacing congratulatory billboards on the surgical strikes.
A BJP MLA who attended the Monday meeting suggested that the party’s state unit was in panic after the demonetisation move, and that Rupani underlined the necessity to reach out to people to help them tackle various issues, including the hardship due to demonetisation.
“We have been told to reach out directly to people, and try solve their daily issues. Due to demonetisation, farmers and vegetable growers are facing problems… we have been told to meet them and try to understand and represent their issues with top BJP leaders in Gandhinagar, so that possible solutions could be found. We have also been told to create awareness about different schemes of the state government,” said the MLA from south Gujarat.
A senior BJP leader said, “Top leaders of the party have realised that this demonetisation step has been taken at a wrong time. The party had decided to use the surgical strikes along the LoC as a major winner for the upcoming Assembly poll campaign, but with people facing a major cash crunch, most leaders are left tongue-tied when asked about it. MPs and MLAs have raised the issue of sudden demonetisation with the top leadership, asking what they should tell the angry citizens. While PM Modi has asked for 50 days to normalise the situation, people will lose patience when they run out of cash. No matter the good work undertaken by the government, when a person is in need of money, he will not understand any policy matter. Several groups within the party are miffed as it has directly affected their own businesses and cooperatives that they run. The chief minister is trying to pacify the groups within the party that are threatening to drift away.”
Another senior leader said that the CM’s message in the party meeting (on Monday) was a way to “strengthen the spirit of oneness among the people”.
Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani, however, said that Rupani’s statement on Monday was not about demonetisation or its impact on people, but about all the issues facing people and their resolution through Seva Setu initiative, an outreach programme involving bureaucrats that Rupani launched recently. “People are very happy with the demonetisation decision and they are welcoming it wholeheartedly since it is to fight the menace of black money and terrorism. And I don’t think it is going to affect BJP’s fortune in the 2017 elections… we are going to win the elections,” said Vaghani, suggesting that there was no sense of panic or urgency within the party.
Notwithstanding Vaghani’s arguement, BJP members in a bid to immediately counter any damage went to queues outside banks, distributing water pouches and posting photographs of their effort on the social media. Vaghani, however, said the instructions to help those in the queues were only for the initial week and now the state administration has taken control of the situation and things have streamlined.
“Our party workers are still going to help people in their respective areas. But now, they don’t go wearing the party scarf, so you would not realise that,” Vaghani said.
Even before the palpable public anger over demonetisation, the party had its hands full, tackling the Patidar and the Dalit protests, besides various tribal and other issues. Unable to handle the situation, Anandiben Patel had stepped down in August, allowing Rupani to take over the reins and ensure BJP’s victory in the 2017 polls.
Rupani began announcing a series of decisions (125 in 100 days as per a release) to help the party retain power even if such moves burdened the exchequer.
Some decisions by the Rupani government:
— Inducted 11 parliamentary secretaries in the government – most in any Gujarat government — reportedly to calm down voices of dissent among elected representatives of BJP.
— Toll exemption for small vehicles and buses of the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) on 12 state highways. This will lead to financial burden of Rs 150 crore on the government.
— SIT to further investigate the death of three Dalits during police firing in Thangadh in 2012.
— Monthly allowance of Rs 500 for patients of sickle-cell disease, prevalent among tribals.
— Rate of PNG for ceramic industry of Saurashtra slashed by Rs 2.07, providing annual relief of Rs 150 crore to the industry.
— Cashless mediclaim assistance up to Rs 2 lakh to fixed wage employees. There are around 4 lakh fixed wage employees in Gujarat under a controversial policy which is sub-judice in the Supreme Court.
— Compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh for unregistered construction workers in case of their death on site in accident.
— Widow pension increased from Rs 750 to Rs 1,000 per month. Annual financial burden of Rs 20 crore on the exchequer.
— Exclusion of around 100 villages from respective area development authorities for urban development in Saurashtra and south Gujarat, following protests by villagers.
—14.88 lakh poor families given assistance to the tune of Rs 3,862 crore under the 9th edition of Garib Kalyan Mela.
— Under Seva Setu initiative, 72,157 out of total 79,736 applications from 1,303 villages of 124 talukas cleared. Seva Setu is the initiative where government officials visit a particular cluster of villages and resolve public issues.
— Facing water scarcity and lackluster rain, power supply for farmers increased from 8 hours to 10 hours.
— The government decided to buy groundnut from farmers at minimum support price (MSP) after bumper crop this year.
— Automatic conversion of more than 15-year-old new tenure land into old tenure land by December 2016.
(INPUTS FROM KAMAAL SAIYED )