The divide in the Opposition ranks notwithstanding, Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee launched a frontal assault Tuesday on Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the West Bengal Chief Minister demanding that the Prime Minister and his government resign if the cash crunch does not ease after December 30, the 50-day deadline he set following the demonetisation announcement. The Congress vice president reluctantly agreed with Banerjee’s demand.
At a joint press conference of eight parties — Congress, TMC, DMK, RJD, JD(S), JMM, IUML, AIUDF — Rahul Gandhi repeated his charges against the Prime Minister, raking up the issue of the purported Sahara and Birla group papers, but others on the dais, including Banerjee, remained silent.
Rahul played down cracks in the Opposition unity, saying parties have “local compulsions”. He and Banerjee said a common minimum agenda was being worked out to bring the entire Opposition on one platform — the JD(U), NCP and Left parties stayed away from the press conference.
The BJP hit back almost immediately, calling the joint press conference the “flop show” of Rahul and said the “bubble of Opposition unity” had burst before it could float. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it was becoming increasingly clear that Rahul lacked “maturity and gravitas” and would soon be left alone to “hurl abuses without substance”.
Prasad told a press conference that the Opposition event was “laughable” since “those behind scams” like 2G spectrum, Saradha chit fund and coal block allocations had come together to attack the Prime Minister. “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.
Banerjee targeted the Prime Minister: “Will you resign from the prime ministership? It was your assurance: give me 50 days… 47 days are over… You are not such a magician to show some magic and turn around the situation in three days… One, two, three… what will happen after that? Prime Minister will have to resign. And NDA government too. We will wait,” she said.
Rahul said demonetisation had neither targeted black money nor corruption, but increased the levels of corruption as a “new market for the conversion of money has been set up”. The goals of demonetisation, he said, have not been met. “It has failed… it is a failed experiment,” he said.
With the Prime Minister attacking the Opposition for slamming the demonetisation exercise, Banerjee asked “what soap have they applied… that they have became white and we have all become black.” She slammed the raid on the former Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, saying the Centre has “destroyed” the federal structure. A “super emergency”, she said, was on in the country.
Rahul recalled that BJP veteran L K Advani had resigned when his name surfaced in the Jain hawala case. He said the court has not given any judgment on the Sahara-Birla papers case, arguing that there is a difference between judgment and observation. On December 14, the Supreme Court had cautioned NGO Common Cause against making unsubstantiated allegations against constitutional functionaries, including the Prime Minister. The bench of Justices J S Khehar and Arun Mishra told advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, that “we don’t see even the smallest material to substantiate your accusations”.
Rahul referred to former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit whose name allegedly figured in one of the papers: “Sheilaji has said that let there be an inquiry. Sheilaji has no problem. Why is Narendra Modi not saying let there be an inquiry,” he said.
Maintaining that demonetisation had hit common people, Banerjee said: “If we say something… then it is said don’t talk, Gabbar will come. Sabko darata hai… sabko bolta hai kuchch mat bolo, aise bologe na tho bas gaya… Is this the way to run the country? Government is a good thing… people trust the government… if people are afraid, nobody will vote… who wants such a government which shows Gabbar Singh from morning to evening.”