New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have avoided discussing his government’s decision to ban 500 and 1000 rupee notes in Parliament, but as the winter session drew to a close on Friday he launched a scathing attack against the opposition for trying to scuttle measures to curb black money.
Speaking at the BJP parliamentary party meeting on the last day of the winter session, he accused the opposition of stalling parliamentary proceedings without any basis. The winter session that began on November 16 was practically a washout as opposition parties consistently demanded that the prime minister should participate in the demonetisation debate.
In his speech, Modi said that while opposition parties had stalled the house against scams during the UPA regime earlier, “Congress-led parties” were now doing so against the ruling government’s steps to root out corruption in the country.
In what may be interpreted as a political tactic to take an ethical edge over the opposition on the last day of the session, he attacked former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who has been unsparing in his criticism of demonetisation, for advocating strong measures against corruption and black money but doing “nothing” during his rule of 10 years.
“Earlier the ruling side, especially Congress, would commit scams like 2G, Coal-gate, Bofors and the opposition would then unite and fight against it on the principle of honesty” he said, “but now the ruling side, the BJP-led NDA, has started a campaign again black money and corruption and opposition parties are standing against it”.
The prime minister also alleged that the Congress party has always put its interests over that of the country while for BJP, the nation’s interests are supreme.
In an interaction with the press, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said that Modi noted that Congress’ opposition to demonetisation is hypocritical as the Wanchoo committee in early 1970s, when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister, had recommended demonetisation. He also said that senior left leader Jyotirmoy Basu had supported the recommendation and had demanded its quick implementation.
“The Wanchoo committee had said it will boost economy.” said Kumar.
Calling the Congress party as a “votary of corruption”, Modi also said that it had made a law against benami assets in 1988 but never notified it or framed rules and regulations, ensuring that the legislation never came into force.
Most critics of the government, however, say that the assumption that demonetisation was required as far back as the 1970s is misleading.
Historian Srinath Raghavan in a tweet said that the-then prime minister Indira Gandhi had “better sense” as demonetisation may have crippled the economy, which was already reeling under the pressure of around 10 million Bangladeshi refugees, a looming war with Pakistan, and fear of US-led sanctions.
Political commentators also thought that Modi’s message to its parliamentary committee reeked of double standards.
“This tradition of disrupting Parliament as a means to counter a lack of a majority in Parliament, and using disruption as a political weapon goes back to the 15th Lok Sabha of 2009-2014, where the BJP resorted to continuously disrupting Parliament, to the tune of 40% of the total time of the Lok Sabha, the most ever in the history of the Indian Parliament,” Sheshadri Kumar, a chemical engineer who regularly comments on political and economic affairs, said in a Facebook post.
Many analysts also said that while Modi blamed the opposition for the parliamentary impasse, he conveniently ignored the fact that his party refused to entertain the opposition plea of conducting a demonetisation debate under Rule 56 – the primary reason for the logjam. Rule 56, also also known as an adjournment motion or urgent motion, is to draw the attention of the house to a matter of immediate public importance having serious consequences. The BJP, on the other hand, wanted the discussion to happen under rule 193, which is usually invoked in matters which requires only a “small discussion.”
Demonetisation, which has affected the entire economy, could not have been brushed aside as a matter of “small discussion”, according to other political parties.
“What aggravated the logjam was prime minister’s tactical silence on the issue in the parliament. While he chose to speak about the virtues of demonetisation at friendlier platforms like public rallies, conferences and meetings, his refusal to speak on the floor of the parliament only amounted to a subversion of parliamentary democracy,” a senior Congress leader, who requested anonymity, told The Wire.
“While the opposition kept raising multiple questions and doubts over the economic logic behind removing 86% of the currency in circulation and the resulting impact on normal life, Modi chose not to answer them,” he added.
Modi’s obstinate stand
While Modi has maintained his calm over the last month amidst a surge of criticisms, Modi’s address to his own party members may also be one of the BJP’s tactics to stem a slowly-growing dissent among BJP parliamentarians. Many BJP MPs have told the media that political situation may not favour the party if the cash crunch in the country is not controlled soon.
Veteran BJP leader L.K Advani, too, had blamed speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Ananth Kumar for the parliamentary impasse a week before and expressed his desire to resign on 15 December. It has been reported that PM called Advani to convince him that the opposition, and not the government, was responsible for the parliamentary disruption.
(With inputs from PTI)