The Congress fielded former Prime Minister and economist Manmohan Singh to take on the ruling NDA on the eve of the first anniversary of demonetisation. As Dr Singh attacked the government over the “disastrous” and “reckless” decision, saying it had lowered the growth rate and hit employment generation, finance minister Arun Jaitely moved in to quickly defend the “historic” move, claiming that demonetisation has met its objective of reducing cash in the economy and dealing a body blow to black money.
The Opposition parties, meanwhile, plan to hit the streets on Wednesday to protest against demonetisation. Though almost all Opposition parties plan to join in the protest, a decision has been taken to hold agitations on separate platforms. The BJP, on the other hand, will counter the move by celebrating the first anniversary of the financial decision as “anti-black money”.
The Congress has made the twin issues of demonetisation and GST as a poll plank in Gujarat, which goes to polls on December 9 and 14, and hence the decision to hold Dr Singh’s press conference and interaction with businessmen in Ahmedabad.
At the media interaction, Dr Singh belted out some hard economic facts and said that for growth to now measure up to the 10-year average of the United Progressive Alliance government, led by him, the economy will have to grow at 10.6 per cent in the NDA’s fifth year in power.
The former PM said though he would be happy if this happens, he did not think it can. He also attacked the government over demonetisation and the way GST was implemented.
Dr Singh said that “demonetisation was clearly not the way to end the menace of tax evasion and black money”. He added: “Demonetisation has proved to be a mere blister to reap political dividends while the real offenders have escaped. I repeat, this was an organised loot and legalised plunder.”
It is worrying that growth has been falling for several quarters, sliding to 5.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2017-18, he said.
Attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Dr Singh said that Mr Modi tends to exaggerate what he will do in the future. “He (the Prime Minister) was recently quoted in the press as saying that India will become a developed country by 2022. I would be the happiest person in the world if he can deliver that. But is he really aware of what it implies?”
He also questioned Mr Modi’s bullet train project, calling it “an exercise in vanity”, and condemned attempts to label as anti-national all voices of dissent on the project.
The former PM said: “By questioning bullet trains, does one become anti-development? Does questioning GST and demonetisation make one a tax evader?”