Prime Minister Narendra Modi may meet leaders from a range of political parties on Monday in a proposed move to counter the Opposition’s growing criticism of his government’s decision to scrap two high-value banknotes.
The Opposition piled pressure on the government, while people’s patience wore thin as they waited in long queues for hours outside banks and ATM kiosks to withdraw money after 500- and 1,000-rupee pulled out of circulation from November 9.
The government is bracing for a stormy winter session when Parliament sits from November 16.
Congress leader Anand Sharma has given a suspension of business notice in the Rajya Sabha for discussion on demonetization of the two notes. The issue is likely to be raised in the Lok Sabha too.
“He (Modi) has scripted India’s financial chaos and anarchy,” Sharma said.
Junior home minister Kiren Rijiju responded to Sharma’s notice, saying the government would give a befitting reply.
The notes ban prompted Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to ring up arch-rival Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) to seek “united action” against the Centre. She also requested President Pranab Mukherjee to meet representatives of political parties on November 16 or 17.
Her Delhi counterpart, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), appears to be on her side.
Kejriwal mocked at Modi’s appeal to people on Sunday to give him 50 days to fix the problems and ease their hardship. “Are the people going to remain hungry for the next 50 days,” asked the Delhi chief minister, known to be a bitter rival of Modi.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi posted a series of sarcastic tweets on Modi’s emotional weekend speech in Goa. “First laughter, now tears! Mediocrity comes face to face with reality.”
These tweets were in sequence with a previous tweet about a smiling Prime Minister posing in Japan, the country he visited after announcing the demonetization scheme on Tuesday evening.
“Modi laughs as poor cry,” Gandhi wrote.
Fellow party leader Ahmed Patel uploaded a picture on Twitter of a long queue outside an ATM, in response to Modi’s comments that “scamsters” were forced to stand in queues. “Are these scamsters?” he asked.
The banned bills accounted for 86% of the money in circulation, leaving millions of people without cash and threatening to bring much of the cash-driven economy to a halt. Banks are working overtime to dispense cash, but the shortfall is too overwhelming.
The chaos, which the government promised will go away in about a month, has given BJP’s rivals a platform to unite before Parliament’s winter session.
West Bengal chief minister Banerjee is looking at an ambitious front comprising the Trinamool, Samajwadi Party, AAP, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Leftists to oppose the demonetization drive and demand a rollback.
Parties such the Janata Dal (United) and Biju Janata Dal supported the withdrawal of the high-value notes, which is aimed at weeding out corruption, black money, counterfeits notes, and terrorist funding.
Sources said Banerjee was trying to communicate with leaders of “all opposition parties”, including SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Yechury.
She was apparently willing to sidestep temporarily a deep-seated rivalry with the CPI(M) for a joint campaign on a “pro-people” issue. Yechury is believed to have told the Trinamool leader that he will discuss her proposal.
But the BJP can take heart from an apparent difference of opinion in the communist camp. A senior CPI(M) leader, parliamentarian Md Salim, termed Banerjee’s move a “desperate call” to save her own party leaders engulfed by corruption allegations.
“Banerjee is the fountainhead of corruption. There is a nexus between Modibhai and Didibhai,” he said.
For his part, President Mukherjee has publicly supported the government’s move and appealed to the people not to panic.