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Modi and Jaitley
Modi and Jaitley

A stone’s throw from Parliament, Delhi  Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee went to the Reserve Bank of India on Thursday to meet its governor and discuss the “ill-effects” of demonetisation. Earlier in the day, the two addressed a public rally at the Azadpur Mandi, the wholesale fruit and vegetable market of Delhi. They demanded rollback of ‘note ban’ within three days or it could lead to anarchy.

Earlier, the Opposition and the Government clashed over the demonetisation issue on Thursday, bringing both Houses to a halt.  In the Upper House, the Opposition made it clear it was not satisfied merely with responses from Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, even as remarks made by Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad about the Uri terror attack in the context of demonetisation forced the final adjournment for the day.

The Lok Sabha on Thursday witnessed continuous disruptions before being adjourned for the day, with Speaker Sumitra Mahajan turning down the Opposition’s demand for an adjournment motion on the demonetisation issue.

As soon as the proceedings started, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge demanded that the Chair accept the adjournment motion but Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anant Kumar said the government was only ready for a debate under Rule 193. Neither side yielded, and the Congress and other Opposition MPs continued to shout slogans.

In the Rajya Sabha that witnessed a six-hour-long debate on demonetisation on Wednesday, the Opposition had pressed for the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the House and a response from him. On Thursday, as the discussion continued, the Rajya Sabha was repeatedly adjourned as Opposition MPs rushed into the well.

The Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien said his party wanted voting after the debate; immediately after that he made some remarks that saw the ruling party benches rise to object. To which Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu was heard saying: “He (the Prime Minister) is very much here. …(Interruptions)… He is in the House of the People. …(Interruptions)… He is very much here.”

A majority of the Opposition parties are united in their belief that the demonetisation move is causing great hardship to the poor and vulnerable, but the Trinamool Congress is possibly the only political party seeking a complete rollback.

This became clear when Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — who led a protest march to Rashtrapati Bhavan on demonetisation — was accompanied only by the National Conference, a rebel AAP MP and the Shiv Sena, which made it clear that it did not want a rollback.

These differences between the Trinamool and other Opposition parties on demonetisation — the Congress, the Left parties, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal-United, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party — will play out over the next few days.

For instance, the Congress-led group sought a Joint Parliamentary Committee and an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha and a discussion under Rule 267 in the Rajya Sabha. The government promptly accepted it as it gave it the opportunity to present the demonetisation measure to a wider audience as one that would cleanse the economy.

Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, the two opposition chief ministers, who have been demanding a roll back of demonetisation exercise, today took to streets of Delhi, terming the measure as “dictatorial” and warning or an unrest if it was not withdrawn in three days.

With public frustration and agony over the continuing cash crunch boiling over, the two also demonstrated outside the RBI office on Parliament Street and demanded that they be informed about the availability of cash, but in vain.

Addressing traders at Azadpur whole-sale fruit and vegetable market, the biggest such marketplace in the national capital, Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal described demonetisation of high-value currency notes as the “biggest scam” in independent India’s history, while his West Bengal counterpart Banerjee said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should not run the country like a “dictator”, calling their protest a fight to save the country.

The Delhi Chief Minister alleged that demonetisation was being carried out to write-off around Rs 8 lakh crore of loan owed by Modi’s “corporate friends” by collecting Rs 10 lakh crore from the people through the exercise. “Black money is flooding the market again. Notes are being home delivered to some people. This is independent India’s biggest scam. The government wants to amass Rs 10 lakh crore by forcing the people to deposit their money in banks and use that amount to write off loans of Modiji’s friends.

The government decision has united the opposition parties for the moment
The government decision has united the opposition parties for the moment

However, BJP chief Amit Shah made a stout defence of the government, which also came under attack in the two houses of Parliament over demonetisation, saying those opposing the exercise were “exposing” themselves as anyone who is clean has no reason to oppose the move.

“BJP leaders are not worried with this (demonetisation) move. Those who have black money they are rattled. If they are clean, then why they are opposing this move.

Hitting out at the parties criticising the Centre’s demonetisation decision, Amit Shah said all the money with terrorists, drug mafia, naxals and corrupt black marketeers has been reduced to mere scrap.

Earlier, launching a vitriolic attack on Narendra Modi on demonetisation issue, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday night said the prime minister was “laughing” while people were dying in queues outside banks and ATMs to withdraw money and the move will turn out to be a “big scam”.

Taking on the Modi government on the eve of Winter Session of Parliament, he said many economists including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had found the decision to withdraw the high-value tenders to be without rationale.

“Nearly 18 to 20 people died in queues and PM Narendra Modi was laughing. He should clarify whether he was laughing or crying,” Rahul said, in an apparent reference to the PM’s remarks in Japan and Goa.

He also claimed that BJP members were alerted beforehand about the demonetisation. “How can one explain the BJP people in West Bengal depositing crores in high-denomination notes just before PM’s announcement on November 8?” he asked.

“This move by the Modi government will turn out to be a big scam,” Rahul said, adding “I don’t think even Finance Minister knew about demonetisation announcement. PM does not believe in his own people.”

“The PM took decision without thinking. We don’t want to reverse it, but at least resolve the difficulties people are facing,” he said.

“The move will have  serious  repercussions on financial situation. I spoke to many economists including Manmohan Singhji and they said it had no economic rationale but an opportunistic decision based on political calculations.”

Rahul also questioned the logic behind introducing Rs 2,000 note after scrapping the Rs 1,000 note.

“The entire Opposition is united against Modi government’s demonetisation move which has resulted in massive inconvenience for people,” Rahul said.

“We want the government to sort this out expeditiously.  The rural population has borne the maximum brunt. What will happen to a farmer who might have saved cash for daughter’s marriage? Banking network is not very strong in remote areas.  The transition should have been smooth,” he said.

On Modi’s jibe at him and Congress that those involved in 2G spectrum scam were now standing in queue to exchange Rs 4,000, Rahul said, “Modiji is always attacking me. Those waiting in line outside banks are poor, small traders, government employees. Are they thieves?”

“Some planning should have been there. What to do when crores of people line up outside banks to withdraw cash and new 2,000 rupee notes don’t fit into the ATMs,” he said.

A lot of people may agree with him today.