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Setting the stage for a stormy start Wednesday to the month-long winter session of Parliament, Opposition leaders met in New Delhi Monday evening to draw up a common strategy to take on the government over its move to demonetise higher denomination currency notes and the problems being faced by people. But the very issue which brought them together also revealed divisions in the Opposition ranks. What did, however, become clear that the Opposition parties — Congress, JD(U), Trinamool Congress, CPM, CPI, RJD, JMM and the YSR Congress, which are likely to be joined by BSP, DMK and possibly SP for another meeting Tuesday — will not let Parliament function and try to put the BJP-led government on the mat over the demonetisation issue.
There was no unanimity on proposals like marching to Rashtrapati Bhavan to jointly petition President Pranab Mukherjee on November 16 — this was suggested by Trinamool leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The Congress tossed the idea of seeking a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the demonetisation decision but did not find many takers. While the Trinamool wants the decision rolled back, the Congress and other parties are not on board.
While none of the other leaders responded to the JPC idea floated by the Congress, party sources said it will take a call once the sessions begins. The Congress alleged that scheduled banks saw a steep increase in deposits — in its words, Rs 5.88 lakh crore — in September as compared to August and argued that this needed to be probed. It also alleged that “a select few” had prior knowledge about the demonetisation move.
At the meeting, it was JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav who first shot down the Trinamool proposal. Sources said Yadav told the meeting that the Opposition should first exhaust all options in Parliament before deciding on a march to Rashtrapati Bhavan. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury maintained silence — his party is not comfortable with the idea of a joint protest with Bengal arch-rival Trinamool.
Sources said Trinamool’s Sudip Bandopadhyay and Derek O’Brien told the meeting that they had already taken a November 16 appointment with the President. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad is learnt to have asked them who did they take the appointment for. When Trinamool leaders said it was for all Opposition parties, Azad asked them how could they take an appointment on behalf of other parties.
But after the meeting, Azad said: “We have decided to work together.”
The meeting was also attended by Congress floor leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, its deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma, CPI’s D Raja RJD’s Prem Chand Gupta, JMM’s Sushil Kumar and M Rajamohan Reddy of YSR Congress.
Asked if all Opposition parties would be joining the Trinamool march to the President, Azad said: “The question is not who is going with whom or who is leading. The question is when to go, which date to go, whether to go mid-session or later.”
He said Opposition parties had come out with separate statements on the demonetisation issue, but they were one “now”. He said Opposition leaders would meet again Tuesday because some parties could not make it Monday. These included the NCP, DMK, SP and BSP.
“It was a preliminary meeting where we reached a broad consensus,” Raja said after the meeting.
“We are all against black money,” Azad told the media, underlining that he wished to flag two points. One, the way the government had brought about demonetisation of high-value notes “by leaking it first to its own party before the deadline. The country has been betrayed (desh ko dhokha diya)… This has never happened before”. Two, he said, “crores of people” have been subjected to a lot of hardship because “there is no currency and ATMs are not working”.
Yechury told reporters that his party wanted the government to allow people to utilise their “white money” for paying bills for public utilities and buying essential commodities with old high-value notes until December 31.
“We will raise the issue in Parliament and from there we will take it forward,” Yechury said, adding, “let us see first what the government’s response is.” The CPM, he said, favoured “a step-by-step approach” instead of starting with the march to Rashtrapati Bhavan.