NEW DELHI: There is of course the budget in Parliament for the economists and the Opposition to debate over, but this time because of the elections in Uttar Pradesh there was a ‘budget’ that the RSS and BJP workers were propagating in the constituencies that they assured their supporters would cut into the devastating impact of ‘notebandi.’

Amidst a scenario of deep gloom, as demonetisation did not differentiate between the villagers on religious lines and was equal in its crippling impact, the BJP workers were busy assuring their supporters that the palliative to their woes would be contained in the budget.

And this is how the narrative went,as told to this writer by shopkeepers, farmers and small businessmen in the towns of Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Muradnagar to name a few:

  • There will be specific provisions to help the farmers in UP in the budget;
  • Money will be transferred to jan dhan accounts, an announcement will be made;
  • The farmers loans will be waived;
  • There will be a big announcement (for the farmers);
  • The youth will get jobs, it will be announced in the budget;

During a recent tour of west UP---where most Assembly constituencies will be polling on February 11---the BJP voters while down in the dumps after demonetisation that had impacted on their businesses as well kept saying, “the budget will make a difference, you will see.” The picture, they insisted will change, and the government would ensure specific benefits.

They did not look convinced when told that the Election Commission had already ruled that state specific palliatives could not be announced by the central government through the budget. “Really, we have not been told that,” said a group of shopkeepers in Meerut who admitted to having voted for the BJP in the last polls.

There was largescale expectation that the notebandi distress would be alleviated by the budget. That has not happened, as the budget has little by way of immediate measures for the farmers and the small business that have been hard hit by demonetisation in all the small cities and towns of UP. The daily wage earners, many of whom have returned to their villages since demonetisation took away their jobs, have been seeking employment under MNREGA. And perhaps this is the one scheme that will positively feel the impact with Jaitley announcing a hefty hike in allocation, from Rs 38,500 plus crores to Rs 48,000 cr. This scheme was introduced by Congress president Sonia Gandhi under the UPA government, and was derided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, under the current levels of distress this has become the only avenue for livelihood for the migrant labour as the closure of small industry and construction projects have left them without jobs.

The first rumour spread through West UP, the villagers said, was that the rich would suffer under demonetisation and the poor and the honest would prosper. On the eve of the elections, this had changed on the ground to “the rich have got away, it is we the poor who are suffering.” There is not a single person the Citizen team met who differed with the last, with all maintaining that demonetisation had hit the poor “as always.”

The second rumour was that money for the jan dhan accounts would be announced. This was a general election promise that has hit PM Modi in Bihar, and again in UP where the poorest of the poor were optimistic of a Santa Claus transfer to their bank accounts. A BJP supporter was optimistic that this would be done, “maybe not as much as they said, but a little amount.” This of course has been a second big disappointment for the voters .

The third pre-budget propaganda was that the budget would focus on the farmers, waive off loans and offer specific sops. Loan waiver was clearly a big hope, with even those angry with the government for notebandi still optimistic that the farmers would get relief. This too has not happened.

Jobs and sops has been the BJP propaganda for the youth of UP who had voted for the BJP in large numbers, across castes, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The budget again has not promised any concerete schemes for job generation, with even ally Shiv Sena maintaining that there was little in the budget for the youth.

In fact, despite generated expectations, there is nothing in the budget to compensate all those who have lost their jobs and their businesses because of demonetisation.