The ruling barring the use of religion and caste in elections by a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court (SC) on January 2 will go down in history as a watershed event. The SC effectively made life harder for all political parties and provided clarity on what could be the determining issue for elections in five states: demonetisation. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa will all go to polls in February and March.

 

Read also: Supreme Court is right, religion has no place in elections

 

Even as his party has appeared to flinch more than once amid reports of public exasperation with demonetisation-related hardship, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has placed all his bets on the move. In a major speech in Lucknow, Modi said while his opponents wanted him out of office, he wanted to get rid of black money (“Kala dhan hatao”). The slogan echoes former PM Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” (remove poverty) slogan that effectively changed Indian politics in the 1970s.

 

Modi’s confidence in playing up his crusade against black money may not be misplaced. An opinion poll conducted by India Today projected that the BJP would win a simple majority in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly. Significantly, the poll, conducted from October to December, claimed that the BJP’s vote share increased a month after demonetisation. While other opinion polls have placed the BJP in a close contest with the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, the saffron party remains a credible contender in what is the most important state on India’s political canvas.

 

The BJP has had a head start in controlling the narrative for the coming elections as it benefits from Modi’s continuing personal popularity. Other than Punjab, the Congress has not been able to project a formidable candidate for CM in any other state. The Aam Admi Party has also appeared to have lost momentum in Punjab and Goa. The clan tussle in the Samajwadi Party, if unresolved, could lead to fragmentation of the party’s Muslim and Yadav vote banks, which is likely to benefit the BJP more than the BSP.

 

The results of the polls, to be announced on March 11, could give a reliable indication on the mood of the nation on demonetisation and Modi’s popularity. It is bound to affect internal dynamics in the BJP (strengthening or weakening Modi, depending on the results) and will affect calculations for presidential elections later this year.