With millions grappling with demonetization blues, a combative Narendra Modi defended the action on Monday as one which has brought “sound sleep” to the poor and unnerved the corrupt even as his rivals made a common cause against him, terming his remarks as “insult” to people. As a belligerent Prime Minister sought to rally public support for the contentious measure, hailed and reviled by his supporters and opponents, the demonetization exercise saw many of his political rivals come together on the issue, with some even alleging BJP leaders had prior information about the impending decision.
Pummelling the Congress and other parties which are criticising demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the corrupt were upset while the poor were “enjoying a sound sleep” after his decision and urged people to bear some inconvenience to root out graft. “After demonetization, the poor are enjoying a sound sleep while rich are running from pillar to post to buy sleeping pills,” Modi said as he tried to rally public support in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, picking up from where he left on Sunday in his speeches laced with emotion and aggression in Goa and Belagavi.
“Don’t mislead people…I want to ask Congressmen who claim people are facing problems how you turned the entire country into a jail for 19 months by imposing Emergency,” he said addressing a rally in Ghazipur, adding it was done only to save the seat of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi after the Allahabad High Court verdict against her, and not out of any concern for the poor.
He said there was no dearth of money for development, but the fact was that money was stashed away somewhere else and not where it should have been. The November 8 decision of the Modi government, however, brought a fractured opposition together on the issue barely a couple of days ahead of Parliament’s winter session with representatives of seven parties– Congress, TMC, JD(U), RJD, CPI, CPI(M) and YSR (Congress)–discussing the matter. The SP, BSP and AAP, which have strongly criticised the government on the demonetization issue gave the meeting a miss, besides DMK, AIADMK and NCP.
Mamata Banerjee’s TMC has even decided to meet President Pranab Mukherjee on November 16, the day Parliament session starts, to highlight the “crisis” situation. It was, however, not clear if other parties will join TMC in the delegation to President. The leaders of these parties are likely to meet again on Tuesday when representatives from Mayawati’s BSP and some others are expected to be present, according to CPI national secretary D Raja. The Congress accused the Modi government of unleashing “economic anarchy” and “tax terrorism” in the country and called for unity among opposition parties.
“Whatever may be the differences, political parties should not shy away from voicing the concern of the people so as to address the grievances,” party’s chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala said soon after the meeting of the opposition parties.
Daring Modi to make public the bank details of the party at the central and state levels, Surjewala alleged that a BJP functionary OP Jha had deposited Rs one crore in party account in West Bengal in currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 on November 8, shortly before the Prime Minister announced their demonetization.
Mamata Banerjee, who has been in touch with various parties on the issue, including arch rival CPI(M), slammed Modi for his remarks that poor are enjoying a sound sleep after demonetization, saying it was an “insult” to the common people. “The PM in his speech said that the poor are sleeping peacefully. This is an insult to commoners and in bad taste,” the TMC supremo said in a tweet after Modi’s statement in Ghazipur. “My humble suggestion is not to hit the common people like this,” she said.
“This will be a killer for the common people. Already a staggering Rs 1.5 lakh crore of GDP has been lost by the economy in only six days,” she said in a statement.
BSP supremo Mayawati, stung by the apparent reference to her in Modi’s “garland of notes” remark, unleashed a no- holds-barred attack on the Prime Minister, saying he cannot tolerate that a “dalit ki beti” is presented such a garland. “He (Modi) has accepted garland of notes many times. But if a ‘dalit ki beti’ is offered such a garland, it it does not become palatable for the Prime Minister, it reflects his cheap mentality,” she said at a hurriedly convened press conference in Lucknow hours after Modi made the remark at a BJP rally in Ghazipur.
“In order to divert people’s attention from his failures, Modi levels baseless allegations against his political opponents which is condemnable…allegations on policy matters are different but personal ones should not be made…he cannot tolerate that a dalit ki beti is presented garland of notes,” she said, adding one cannot digest what Mayawati wears.
Mayawati said an undeclared “Bharat Bandh” was prevailing in the country where all economic activity has come to a grinding halt due to demonetization. “Our party welcomes from the heart any strong action for it (against black money) but the present government in the garb of checking black money and corruption has forced the people to face immense hardships,” she said. Mayawati was offered a garland of currency notes at a party rally in Lucknow when she was the chief minister.
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury also sought to pick holes in the demonetization drive, claiming that Prime Minister’s stated objectives including those of tackling corruption will not be achieved with the steps taken.
He also claimed that the BJP-led government had gains in UP election in mind while making the move and reiterated his party’s charge that BJP leaders had prior information about the decision, referring to the West Bengal BJP depositing crores “a few hours ahead of Modi’s November 8 announcement.”
“You discontinued Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes. But, replaced it with that of Rs 2000. Nobody is able to use that note,” Yechury said as he flashed a Rs 2000 note he withdrew from an ATM in Parliament premises to tell reporters that he has not been able to spend it over the past five days.
“Also terrorists don’t use cash, such funding is done through electronic transfers. The government should rather implement the law which was brought after 2008 terror attack in Mumbai,” he suggested.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, one of the most strident critics of Modi, demanded that the measure be rolled back. “The situation is just the opposite of what the Prime Minister said. The poor are not sleeping. They are spending nights outside banks. Only Modiji’s friends are having good sleep. He has made the poor drink poison in the name of strong tea ‘kadak chai’,” Kejriwal said.
Earlier in the day, while addressing a rally in Ghazipur Modi said, “My decision is a little harsh. When I was young, poor people used to ask for ‘kadak’ (strong) tea but it spoils the mood of rich.”
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, set to face a difficult state assembly election, said the farmers were badly hit by the Modi government’s action and asked the Prime Minister to make special arrangements for them in the middle of the cropping season. “They said the measure (demonetization) will cause pain, but whose who are giving the pain themselves did not know how much pain it will cause. First they said it will last for a week or ten days, now they are saying 50 days,” Akhilesh said.
As Modi battled opposition criticism, BJP ally Shiv Sena too did not pull any punches and termed the demonetization drive as “demonic and unsystematic” that has led to “financial anarchy” in the country. “125 crore Indians are standing in queues in scorching heat without food and water. Do you expect them to back you in future? Are you repaying people the blessings they gave you by forcing them to come on streets? This is blatant cheating with them,” an editorial in Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamana‘ said. “The spectacle of weeding out black money is monstrous,” it said.
Despite a show of unanimity on the issue of demonetization, divisions persisted among opposition parties on whether they will join TMC delegation when it meets the President. “By and large there was a decision that we will work together. In such cases, it is not like will be led by a, b or c or whether we should meet the President at the start of the session, in the middle or the end,” Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said after the meeting.
Yechury, whose party and TMC are at daggers drawn in West Bengal, said,”The matter has to be first raised in Parliament and then we will take it forward.” When asked if the opposition was united on the issue, he said,”It (unity) has to be on the floor of the House. Floor coordination cannot happen anywhere else.”
TMC’s Derek O’brien, however, said his party will meet the President on the appointed day and at appointed hour in view of the “crisis” situation. “November 16 it is, 1:30 PM it is. I hope others will see the urgency and come back to us,” he said.