The first day of the Winter Session was dominated by the demonetisation issue and the Narendra Modi government clearly appeared on the defensive. The Opposition managed to corner the government as the issue was discussed in the Rajya Sabha.on Wednesday.
Speaking in the Upper House, BSP supremo Mayawati demanded that a Joint Parliamentary Committee be created to examine the demonetisation policy. Her demand is supported by other parties as well as they particularly want a probe into the allegation that government's announcement was leaked in advance.
The Opposition may raise the pitch for a JPC in the days to come, especially as the government's decision seems to have adversely impacted the common man. This could potentially mean that government may find it extremely difficult to have its way in Parliament - at least in the Upper House, where it is in a minority - in the days to come.
Though it was the Congress' Anand Sharma who initiated the discussion, it was Mayawati who took the battle to the government's camp.
Mayawati demands JPC probe
Mayawati slammed demonetisation as a move against public interest and even challenged the BJP to go for polls right now to test the popularity of the decision.
The BSP supremo said the situation was such as if an economic emergency had been imposed in the country, in which the poor and the middle class have been left suffering. She called the move half-baked and ill-planned, asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi that if he had spent 10 months planning it why does he need 50 more days? The former UP chief minister alleged that the the 10-month preparation was only for saving the funds of BJP, its friends and top businessmen.
She also said that Modi was suddenly reminded of the fight against corruption two and a half years into his tenure because assembly polls in five states were near and BJP senses that its position is weak. However, Mayawati declared, that the party won't reap any benefits in these polls because of this move and will only see a backlash.
She also mocked BJP over the proposal to ink the fingers of those exchanging their money from banks. She dared the government to also ask such people to cast their vote for next Lok Sabha polls and see if anybody votes for the BJP.
Besides demanding a JPC probe into the issue, she also insisted that such an investigation needed to be time-bound.
Congress: Common man's access to own money obstructed
Congress Anand Sharma had initiated the discussion, questioning the very rationale behind the withdrawal of all Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes. He informed the House that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had told him in an official statement in August that fake currency notes comprised only 0.02% of the total currency in circulation. "Why then did he remove 86% of currency to destroy this 0.02% fake currency and impose a financial emergency in the country?" he asked.
Sharma, a former nion commerce minister, also tried to shame the government, asking that does it think that housewives, labourers, farmers, and average employees are black-money hoarders? He said a message has gone to the entire world that the Indian economy was running only on black money and travel advisories have been issued the world over against travel to India.
He said the government could have taken a lesson from the demonetisation exercise in 1978, when the then RBI Governor I G Patel had told the government that it was not a good move since most of black money was converted to assets.
Referring to the plight of the people in seemingly endless queues outside banks and ATMs, Sharma asked the government which law gave it the power to stop anybody from withdrawing money from his/her own bank account?
"The backbone of the economy has been broken," he alleged, and claimed that the move was also selectively leaked. Indicating a scam, he asked the government to probe how much money was invested in gold and other instruments from April, when this news was first leaked in Gujarat, to today.
Yechury: allow old notes for public transactions
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury chastised the government, saying that the move was not stopping any avenue of black money. He compared PM Modi to Louis XIVth and Marie Antoinette. He also hit the nail on the head by asking the government to make election funding transparent if it was serious about stopping corruption. He also made a very significant appeal to the government to allow people to use old currency notes for all public transactions.
Another significant aspect of Yechury's intervention was his argument that the government's demonetisation policy and its accompanying measures that involved increasing control over the lives of Indian citizens, was a sign of fascism.
Ramgopal Yadav: Don't go to polls right now
Ramgopal Yadav, recently expelled from the Samajwadi Party, said the situation was worse than Emergency and common man had been turned into beggars for their own money. He noted that housewives' earnings of decades had been impacted, perishable vegetables worth crores were being wasted everyday and farmers were incurring loss of Rs 500 on every quintal of food-grains. He also pointed out that when people do not have any currency in their hands, they will readily accept fake notes thus defeating the very objective of the scheme.
He urged the government to allow farmers to buy fertiliser and seeds with old currency notes till sowing season was complete and also arrange for mobile banks in rural areas to help poor people. Also asking for a probe into the alleged advance leak of the measures, he cautioned the BJP that if its workers were to go to the people to ask for votes, they would be beaten blue and black, especially by women.
Modi did not attend the discussion, in spite of repeated appeals by Opposition MPs. Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, M Venkaiah Naidu responded from the government's side. He told the Opposition to decide whether they were for or against black money.