Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to placate ally Shiv Sena by meeting a delegation of its Members of Parliament on Tuesday, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray continued his criticism of the Union government’s demonetisation move. Modi even invoked Sena founder late Bal Thackeray’s name in his brief conversation with Sena MPs.
Thackeray said the government should ease the distress to the common man and not compel his party to take an extreme stand.
“We never said take back the decision to demonetise. But who is responsible for today’s situation? There is no need to teach patriotism to those who are suffering in queues. The government should change this situation soon. Don’t coerce us to take an extreme stand,” Thackeray said. The Sena chief’s latest barb at the government came soon after a meeting between Modi and 13 Shiv Sena MPs on Tuesday, where they requested permission for banned notes to be accepted in district central cooperative banks, urban cooperative banks and credit societies.
The MPs submitted a letter saying the government’s decision of barring these banks from exchanging old currency notes and accepting these notes as deposits or payment against existing loans has brought daily activities of farmers and rural citizens to a complete halt.
Sources said Modi heard them and said the Centre would consider their request. He, however, insisted the decision taken by him was in the interest of the common man and even late Sena chief Bal Thackeray would have approved of it. Modi also struck a conciliatory note saying that the two allies will always work together and ultimately he will also have to answer to former Sena chief Bal Thackeray after death, just like Shiv Sena leaders, the sources added.
A Shiv Sena MP, who met Modi as part of the party’s delegation, said, “We explained that these banks come under NABARD, which comes under the Reserve Bank of India and transactions can be monitored by the government. The prime minister’s tone was positive. He said the government will consider our suggestion in the second phase of changes in demonetisation norms.”
However, Uddhav Thackeray was not impressed. “Modiji has respect in his mind for Balasaheb. But first as the country’s prime minister he is expected to answer the questions distressing the common citizens.” Late in the evening, however, the party decided not to join a protest planned by the Opposition parties against demonetization.
Earlier, talks between Thackeray and senior BJP ministers such as Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley also failed to break the impasse between allies Sena and BJP over the method of implementing the demonetisation. In an editorial in Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana on Tuesday, the party even said the Centre can consider its demonetisation move a success because it has shifted focus from all nationally-important issues such as poverty, agriculture, the violence at Kashmir, among other things, to lining up for cash at banks.
Surendra Jondhale, who heads the Mumbai University’s Department of Civics and Politics, said, “The Sena is aggressive because there is currently a vacuum of a strong opposition and it is trying to project itself as being independent considering elections are coming up in multiple municipal corporations, including Mumbai. The party wants any token issue to fight the BJP.”
However, despite what Sena leaders may say, the party will not take an extreme step such as walking out of the alliance because it is very much interested in being in the government as of now given its shaky position, he said.
Besides criticising the government, the Sena also targeted the opposition, calling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar “two-faced” for criticising the Modi-led government’s demonetisation exercise on one hand, and sharing a stage with the prime minister on another.
“Pawar’s behaviour in Baramati where he sat next to Modi was exactly the opposite. Modi had even said he has learnt all of his political skill from Pawar. So Pawar is equally responsible for the despair of farmers and the country’s common hard-working population,” the Sena said.
The party last week joined hands with opposition parties to participate in a protest march against demonetisation led by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Significantly, Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday called on Thackeray at his Bandra residence to extend invitation for his daughter’s wedding early next month. The two leaders had a brief chat but sources from both sides said no serious discussion on the current controversy took place.