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The politics of opposition: What led up to Manmohan Singh’s sharp criticism

black money crackdown Updated: Nov 25, 2016 01:31 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s criticism of his successor Narendra Modi’s government’s implementation of demonetisation has given the Congress more ammunition to fire at the Centre.(PTI)

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh delivered a stinging riposte to the government on Thursday over demonetisation but the ground for his stirring speech in Rajya Sabha was created by separate events a few days earlier.

Singh, after all, was least likely to speak in the winter session but for the uproar over a comment by the leader of opposition in the Upper House, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who drew a parallel between people killed by terrorists and death of people linked to demonetisation

Sources said after the BJP latched on to Azad’s comment and tried to project the Congress as “insensitive”, at least three top opposition leaders felt there was an urgent need to “change the narrative” of the discourse. “The BJP tried to link the issue with patriotism while we wanted to focus on the plight of the people,” said a senior opposition leader.

Last Friday, two opposition leaders spoke to Azad and Anand Sharma. Both suggested that the Congress should field “a prominent, respected face” to speak on the subject so that the BJP can’t have its way. During back channel discussions between the Congress and other parties, three names came up as choices for a “surprise speaker” in the debate: Manmohan Singh, Karan Singh and AK Antony.

“All three leaders command a different level of respect. (It was felt) their intervention would certainly divert the path of the discourse,” said a high-profile opposition leader involved in the strategy.

In a strongly worded attack on the government in the Rajya Sabha, Singh on Thursday said several deaths and distress among the poor, farmers and small traders convinced him the demonetisation plan led to “organised loot and legalised plunder”.

Read | Demonetisation has been monumental management failure, says Manmohan

“It is no good that every day, the banking system modifies rules and conditions. This reflects poorly on the office of the PM, finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India,” he said.

“I want to know from the prime minister the name of any country where people have deposited their money in the bank but they are not allowed to withdraw their money. This alone, I think, is enough to condemn what has been done in the name of greater good of the people.”

Also read | Manmohan calls demonetisation a failure: Jaitley hits back, Twitter weighs in