Hitting out at the Opposition that has been scathing in its criticism of the demonetisation move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday those opposing the scrapping of high-value banknotes were upset as they were caught unawares.
The Opposition has slammed the demonetisation move, accusing the government of unleashing financial anarchy as people struggle to get cash more than two weeks after the surprise decision.
“The government’s decision is being criticised by a few for not being prepared. Actually they are perturbed that they were caught unawares. If they had been given 72 hours, they would have said there is no one else like Modi,” the Prime Minister said.
Responding to criticism that the government was denying people the right to their own money, Modi said, “Everyone has the right to his money. You have a right to every pie. But, why must it be currency notes.”
With nearly 65% of the population under the age of 35, the country could use the current situation as an opportunity to “move to digital currency”.
He was speaking at a function held in Parliament annexe to commemorate the Constitution, with Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, his cabinet colleagues and a number of lawmakers from Opposition parties in the audience.
Political rivals have criticised and disrupted Parliament proceedings, demanding that Modi be in the House to answer their queries on currency ban.
The PM was unlikely to be in Parliament on Friday. He was to leave for Punjab after the function and was also to attend a police meet in Hyderabad in Telangana in the evening.
Modi was present in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday morning but didn’t speak. The House had to be adjourned as Opposition protested his absence post-lunch.
His predecessor had led the Opposition charge in the Upper House. Manmohan Singh, who is credited with opening the Indian economy first as the finance minister and then prime minister, warned that demonetisation could shave two percentage points off India’s growth and hit the poor the hardest. He criticised the government for “monumental mismanagement” in implementing the currency switch that has led to long queues outside banks and ATM kiosks.
Cash is in short supply as the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were withdrawn accounted for 86% of the currency in circulation.
Modi, however, remained firm. He again described demonetisation as the “country’s war on corruption and black money. The soldier of this fight is the common man of the country”.
India ranked high on various corruption surveys and that had to change. “I invite all political parties, social organisations and the media to come forward in this,” he said.
Making a pitch for digital money, the PM said, “It is as easy as using Whatsapp. No one went to engineering colleges to learn how to use that... why don’t we educate and inspire people to use digital money,” Modi said, referring to the popular messaging service.