Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked on Monday the legacy of the late Rajiv Gandhi, his predecessor from the 1980s, to counter the Congress’s criticism of his demonetisation drive for a cashless economy.
The reference to the Congress leader follows his comments three days ago that his mother, the late Indira Gandhi, refused to scrap high-value banknotes for fear of losing elections when she was in power in the 1970s.
“These people (Congress) credit Rajiv Gandhi for ushering computerisation and mobile revolution in the country. Now, when I talk about mobile wallets, they say poor people don’t have mobile phones. Which statement is correct?” Modi asked at a BJP rally in Kanpur for next year’s Uttar Pradesh polls.
This was his first public address after protests against the demonetisation drive washed out the month-long winter session in Parliament.
“To help the corrupt, Parliament was not allowed to function …. A handful of people are trying to save the corrupt, while on the other side the entire country is ready to tread the path of honesty,” Modi said.
The remarks were viewed as a riposte to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s charge of “personal corruption” against the Prime Minister, who rode to power two years ago vowing to stamp out corruption.
“When Sitaram Kesri was Congress party treasurer, their own leaders used to say ‘na khata na bahi, jo Kesri kahe wahi sahi’. Unaccountability, corruption and doing whatever they want have been the style of Congress,” Modi said.
He supported the Election Commission’s proposal to curb anonymous donations to political parties, which don’t have to reveal the source if the contribution is Rs 20,000 or less. The poll panel sought to fix the amount at Rs 2,000.
Modi said he had proposed a debate in Parliament over the nature of political funding, but the Opposition didn’t want it.
He also backed a proposal to hold parliamentary and assembly elections concurrently to stop unnecessary expenditure. “Separate polls create space for black money to make way into the system.”
The government’s surprise move to recall Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes to weed out black money and corruption triggered a cash crunch, forcing millions of people to queue at banks and ATM kiosks for more than a month.
Modi said he was aware of the hardships people were facing because of the cash crunch and reaffirmed his pledge that the problems would begin to ease out after 50 days of the note ban.
“You have suffered for the country, you will not be disappointed,” he said. “I am settling accounts with those who have exploited the middle class and the poor; it is their fight I am waging.”