Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday hailed demonetisation as “yagna against corruption” hours after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi lashed out at him for the “foolish decision”, intensifying the government-Opposition faceoff over scrapping of high-value banknotes.
The Opposition marked the first month of demonetisation as a “Black Day” on Thursday, with Congress vice-president accusing Modi, who is still to speak on the issue in Parliament, of laughing at suffering of the people. The move had benefitted digital wallets such as Paytm while the poor faced hardship, he said.
“The Prime Minister took this so-called bold decision. The bold decision can also be a foolish decision. And this was a foolish decision, it has devastated the country,” Gandhi told mediapersons.
More than three weeks of the winter session of Parliament have been lost to disruptions over Opposition protests against the government’s November 8 decision to recall Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes that has led to a cash crunch, sending the economy reeling .
The Opposition wants the issue debated with a vote, a demand the BJP has rejected.
Thursday was no better. As disruptions spoiled chances of a debate on demonetisation again, Modi took to Twitter after Gandhi’s blistering remarks.
Claiming support of the people, Modi tweeted, “I salute the people of India for wholeheartedly participating in this ongoing Yagna against corruption, terrorism and black money,” he said. It was a “historic opportunity” to “embrace increased cashless payments and integrate latest technology in economic transactions”.
Speaking to media outside Parliament, Gandhi said, “Farmers are dying. More than 100 people have died. And all this while, PM is having fun. He is laughing.”
He described Paytm, which allows cashless transactions, as “Pay to Modi”. The Alibaba-backed company is witnessing millions of daily transactions worth more than Rs 100 crore following the currency cull.
The decision would empower the poor, neo-middle class, middle class and benefit future generations, Modi said. Corruption and black money would no longer hold back villages which must get their due.
“The government’s decision has several gains for farmers, traders, labourers, who are the economic backbone of our nation,” Modi tweeted.
Demonetisation would bring a degree of inconvenience but the “short-term pain” would lead to long-term gains, Modi said.
The Opposition has accused the government of unleashing economic anarchy and causing distress to people, especially those in rural areas.
“His (PM’s) narrative is changing. After black money to terrorists he moved to counterfeit money. Then he moved to cashless economy. And we are going to catch him inside the House. He can’t run away,” Gandhi said.
The Congress and other parties say Modi should be present in the House to answer their queries but the government accuses the Opposition of running away from debate
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, too, joined the battle against the Opposition over the issue of black money. While Modi said the young people of the country “must ensure #IndiaDefeatsBlackMoney”, Jaitley challenged the Congress in the Lok Sabha to name “even one step the UPA government took to curb black money”.
Gandhi insisted there should be voting at the end of the debate, and alleged that the government was scared that many members of the treasury bench could vote against the government.
“We want voting. But they are blocking it because if there’s a voting many people in the BJP will vote with us,” Gandhi said.
Earlier in the day, the Opposition observed a “Black Day”, with 16 parties protesting inside the Parliament complex. Opposition leaders had black bands on them to protest the government’s demonetisation move.