Unfazed by the absence of leaders of the Left, JD(U), SP and BSP, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee along with some regional parties sought to put up a united face on Tuesday, raising the pitch against demonetization by demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After the eight-party meeting, the leaders also sought a probe into the issue of “personal corruption” of Modi with Gandhi insisting that a “free and fair” inquiry was needed to maintain the credibility of the Prime Minister’s post. Banerjee, whose presence rescued the Congress’ plan of replicating the opposition unity witnessed in Parliament recently on the note ban issue, virtually stole the show by placing the resignation demand, a position subsequently echoed by Gandhi.
Both Gandhi and Banerjee spoke of a “common minimum agenda” being evolved to take the opposition unity forward even as he downplayed the absence of several other parties, including the Left, from Tuesday’s meet which preceded the press conference.
Escalating the attack on Modi, Gandhi described the note ban as a “single arbitrary financial experiment in the history of the world that affected 1.3 billion people” and asked him to explain the “real” reason for implementing it and take responsibility for giving pain to people. He also raised the demand that Modi answer the charges of “personal corruption” made against him in the wake of his name allegedly figuring in the “Sahara and Birla diaries”.
“Will you take responsibility over demonetization and resign. Will you resign from Prime Ministership,” Banerjee asked, as she termed demonetization as a “mega scam” in the name of “achhe din” (good days). The West Bengal Chief Minister said that 47 days are over and only three days are left in the 50-day period sought by Modi for return of normalcy post the note ban.
“He is not a magician to perform magic. No miracle will happen. You promised to bring ‘achhe din’. Are these ‘achhe din’? In the name of cashless, Modi government has become faceless and baseless. “Demonetization is not a small issue. If government becomes weak, the country is weakened,” she said.
Asked what if the PM did not resign, Gandhi said, “If he does not resign, we will put pressure on him to resign.” The Congress leader said, “It was on the Prime Minister’s personal initiative that this arbitrary financial experiment was carried out for the first time in the world history that affected 1.3 billion people. Such an experiment was never done even during Mao’s reign in China.”
Gandhi also claimed that demonetization has made no impact on black money and dubbed it as “an attack on financial independence” and poor people of the country. “PM should come out with the real aim of demonetization and answer who is responsible for the suffering of the poor and what is he doing for those who have been hit. The aim of demonetization has failed.”
“The Prime Minister says he is fighting corruption but he is not answering the questions raised about him. The Prime Minister should be the first person to say that since there are charges against him there should be a free and fair probe,” the Congress leader said.
Asked about former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s name figuring in the same documents, Gandhi replied, “Sheilaji herself is saying that she has no problem with an inquiry. Why Narendra Modiji is not saying that. While there are many names in ‘Sahara diaries’, his name appears clearly in the e-mail of Vice President of Aditya Birla group.”
The parties whose representatives were present at Tuesday’s meeting were RJD, DMK, JD-S, JMM, IUML and AIUDF, besides the Congress and Trinamool Congress. In the just-concluded Parliament session, Gandhi brought together a total of 16 opposition parties on the note ban issue, some of which distanced themselves after his meeting with the Prime Minister on December 16 on farmers’ issues.
Gandhi claimed that demonetization has “failed” on fronts like countering terrorism, counterfeit currency, black money and corruption – all stated objectives of the Prime Minister. With the Prime Minister alleging that only the corrupt are opposing the note ban, the Congress vice president said that Modi can take whatever action he wants against the leaders.
At the same time, he said that the opposition would be one with government in any legislation to tackle corruption, including the one on Benami properties. He said he should make public the names of all those who have accounts abroad and bring back absconding businessmen Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi.
On the ‘Sahara-Birla’ matter, Gandhi sought to dismiss BJP’s claims that the Supreme Court has not found any merit in the allegations. Some observations might have come but the judgement is yet to come, he said. Singling out Modi, Banerjee said that the country was witnessing a “super emergency” under his rule without its formal declaration. All sections of society are being frightened by saying “Gabbar is coming, Gabbar is coming”, the West Bengal Chief Minister said suggesting that the country cannot be run through such threats and accused the PM of taking away people’s rights.
She also accused the Centre of playing politics with non-BJP ruled states wondering as to why her state should not get what Assam gets. She also hit out at the Prime Minister “for not taking Parliament into confidence” on such a big decision as demonetization. “Not even a single line statement was laid on the table of the House. This is not only unethical, it is illegal and unconstitutional,” she said.
Alleging that demonetization has wreaked havoc, she said that it has seen growth in unemployment and a collapse of the banking system. Making fun of the digital push by the Modi government in the wake of demonetization, Banerjee said that it was strange “given the fact that in 92% of the villages in the country, there are no bank branches”.
She claimed that even in advanced countries like the US and Germany, the transactions are to the tune of 40%. RJD’s Jai Prakash Narain Yadav said note ban is an “anti-people” and “very painful” decision in which 130 people lost their lives.
He held the Prime Minister responsible for it and said the rich had been benefited and the poor ‘looted’ and termed the situation as “very serious”. DMK’s Tiruchi Siva said “the country is facing a financial crisis” due to demonetization and people have been made to suffer as its implementation has been “ill conceived”. He said the initiative has turned out to be an “utter failure. Heroism is different from realty”.
Banerjee said people have become “landless, cashless and voiceless” and “we have come together to lend voice to people, who have been suffering”.
Meanwhile, CPI leader D Raja, whose party did not attend the opposition meet, said the December 30 deadline on demonetization has led to “a financial chaos and turmoil in the country, causing unimaginable misery and hardship to people. “The economy as a whole is affected which has led to loss of jobs. It has ruined the livelihood of common people. The Prime Minister should own up responsibility and tell the people what forced him to take such a decision,” Raja said, asking how could so many people be caught with huge amounts of new currency.
Mocking the Congress-led meet of eight parties against demonetization, BJP said it was Rahul Gandhi’s “flop show” and that the bubble of opposition unity had burst before it could even take off. Noting that only eight of the 16 parties which had joined hands in Parliament against the Modi government over note ban were present, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took potshots at Rahul, saying it was increasingly becoming clear that he lacked “maturity and gravitas” and that he would soon be left alone to “hurl abuses without substance”.
Prasad told a press conference that the opposition’s exercise was “laughable” as, he said, those who were behind scams like 2G spectrum, Saradha chit fund and coal block allocations had come together to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We all saw Rahul Gandhi’s flop show today. Those who claimed about opposition unity could merely bring together eight of the 16 parties. Soon they will be reduced to four. Then Rahul Gandhi will be left on his own…to hurl abuses without substance. The bubble of opposition unity has burst before it could take off,” he said.
The senior BJP leader kept Congress and Rahul Gandhi in his line of fire and skipped any mention of TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been a staunch critic of the government’s demonetization move and again attacked Modi.
Noting that earlier parties would work together to put up a joint front against Congress, he said the opposition’s press conference was a victory for BJP and loss for Congress as it showed that as the saffron party has emerged as the centre of polity now.
Rahul and his party have been the biggest patron of corruption, Prasad alleged, saying that he kept quiet during the UPA government when several scams happened. Attacking the Congress vice president over his charges against Modi, Prasad said these were “baseless and shameful comments”.
“Everyday we get this indication that Rahul Gandhi lacks maturity. It is increasingly evident that his utterances are lacking in maturity and gravitas. Even today we saw that he made some baseless and shameful allegations against the Prime Minister which the leaders sitting beside him did not repeat. It itself makes clear how serious are his comments,” he said.
The demonetization exercise, Prasad said, is aimed at turning the country honest and that the people have backed Modi. “The opposition’s press conference makes it clear that who have been the worst hit by this. Such parties were sitting together who are linked with biggest scams in independent India… We all know that severe action is being taken by the government daily. Why is Rahul Gandhi troubled?” he asked.
The Law Minister also alleged that Gandhi wants to help those with suspect accounts in Swiss banks by demanding that the government disclose their names. Prasad said disclosing those names before these account holders were charge-sheeted will go against bilateral treaties with different countries and the Supreme Court has “appreciated” this stand.
Asked about Gandhi’s demand for a probe into Birla and Sahara diaries details which, he has alleged, showed Modi’s “personal corruption”, Prasad hit back demanding his response to scams during the UPA government Gandhi played a role in scuttling the “honest probe” into the 2G scam by JPC, he alleged. Prasad also attacked AAP for “evading” questions on its donors and said it was doing so even after its “godfather and guru” Anna Hazare wrote a letter to party chief Arvin Kejriwal in this regard.