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India cash ban disruptive but won't harm Modi's election chances

Iain Marlow, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

"The opposition somehow has not been able to cash in on this, on what I would call a blunder. They could have mounted a sharper attack," Joshi said.

Modi is now squarely focused on 2019, Joshi said, and demonetization, as well as surgical strikes across the border into the Pakistan-administered part of disputed Kashmir, are all aimed at shoring up populist support for his party.

Modi still faces several risks.

The BJP is relying on Modi's national reputation in Uttar Pradesh, rather than appointing a state chief ministerial candidate, like other parties. In late 2015, the BJP tried this strategy in Bihar and lost the election.

And with results not due until March 11, the feeling that corrupt elites were hit harder than the poor could still shift "swift and fierce," said Richard Rossow, who studies Indian states at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A further threat to Modi's chances could emerge if the cash ban-related contraction deepens further.

"There is widespread support for the anti-corruption intent of the currency move, but there is frustration with how it has been rolled out," said Milan Vaishnav, a South Asia senior fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Administrative capability was supposed to be the BJP government's calling card, and the opposition smells weakness there."

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