Modi’s defence of demonetisation in Parliament fails to resonate with Opposition
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s contention on Tuesday that the government picked the right time to carry out its demonetisation exercise has found few takers in the Opposition.
The Congress termed Modi’s speech in the Lok Sabha as “arrogant”, and said he had lost a “good” opportunity to present his vision and explain what he and his party stand for. “This was quite an arrogant reply... He should have used this window of opportunity to present his vision, clarity and perspective for the country,” Congress leader Veerappa Moily told reporters after the speech.
UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav responded to the Prime Minister’s speech by saying that demonetisation has “resulted in people leaving their jobs” to stand in queue before banks and ATMs -- badly affecting their financial situation.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, for her part, said the “visionless (demonetisation) drive” only made the nation lose its economic freedom. “Today, three months are over, but the restrictions and sufferings are not. Citizens have lost their economic freedom,” she tweeted.
As if to prove her right on this count, an estimated one-fourth of the ATMs across the country ran dry the same day -- exposing the government’s claim that the worst of the post-demonetisation cash crunch was over. Bank officials attributed this development to the withdrawal of large amounts of cash for sundry payments and purchases at the start of the month.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi found fault with Modi’s comparison of the demonetisation exercise -- seen as a move to remove tax evaders and illicit wealth from the country -- with a surgical operation on the human body. Underlining his claim that Modi and his ministers were not qualified to carry out such exercises, Gandhi quipped that surgery by “a quack can endanger life”.
The Prime Minister’s explanation also faced criticism from the likes of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and N K Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (India).
In his speech, Modi dubbed demonetisation as a movement intended to clean India -- just like its ‘Swachh Bharat’ counterpart. He said the cash clampdown was ordered after the festive season business had peaked with Diwali, and there was a slack period when businesses usually took it easy.
“Changes don’t happen on a whim, proper process and planning is being followed,” he said, rejecting opposition charges that the government was ill-prepared for a decision that drained out 86% of the cash in the economy. The move triggered a severe cash crunch in the initial weeks, disrupting business and trade.
“After demonetisation, we did our best to help people who were facing issues. We also had to tweak rules to stop those who were trying to game the system, those adept at theft,” he said.
Modi said he was ready to face any consequences arising from the decision. “Aise aise logon ki musibat hui hai. Mujhe pata hai mere upar kya kya zulm ho sakta hai (Because of the kind of people who were affected…I know the kind of trouble I could face),” he added.
Calling demonetisation a “pro-poor” move, the Prime Minister said the government was clear from the beginning that “we are ready for a discussion on demonetisation but some were keener on TV bytes and not debates”.
He also said his government had done more to fight corruption than any other government in the past and, to make his point, cited the formation of a special investigation team on black money on the directive of the Supreme Court.
Modi said the government had taken a series of steps to curb the shadow economy – from applying higher taxes to jewellery and writing a stringent new law against ‘benami’ property to launching a voluntary income disclosure scheme to enhance compliance.
“Before May 2014, the opposition benches used to shout about how much money was eaten up in the coal scam or that scam. Now the opposition shouts, how much has Modi brought back. This is a matter of great satisfaction for me,” the prime minister said.
Modi, who rode to power in May 2014 promising to fight corruption, was referring to his campaign pledge of bringing back illicit wealth parked abroad.
“You can oppose Modi, that is your job,” he told the Opposition. “But if something is genuinely good, you should lend your support to it.”
The Congress, however, was not impressed by Modi’s defence and reiterated its demand for an apology. “Demonetisation has wrecked the lives of the people…the least the PM could have done is apologise to the nation. The government is yet to offer condolences to the families of the victims of demonetisation,” Congress spokesperson Gaurav Gogoi said.
The Congress links the death of more than 100 people to the demonetisation exercise.