IN a bid to defuse Opposition protests over the implementation of demonetisation and the distress it has caused, the Centre is reaching out to Chief Ministers to include them in a sub-committee to assess public impact and come up with a roadmap towards a cashless economy, official source said.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has requested Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu to head the Chief Ministers’ panel. Jaitley has also spoken to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, two Chief Ministers who have backed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement, sources said. Sources said Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also could be part of the team.
While Nitish Kumar’s office neither confirmed nor denied the call, Odisha Chief Secretary said that he wasn’t aware of any such overture from the Centre. Chandrababu Naidu’s office confirmed that Jaitley has requested the Chief Minister to head the panel.
The Centre is also trying to rope in Congress veteran and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy and Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, a Politburo member of CPI(M), as part of the sub committee. When contacted by The Indian Express, Narayanasamy said: “I have told them I would consult my party leadership.” When contacted, Sarkar confirmed that he received a call from Jaitley, but said no decision had been taken on the request.
While the Congress slammed the move, official sources said the contours and terms of the panel will be clear only after the CMs confirm their participation. “This again is diversion and the Prime Minister is seeking to claim legitimacy for the illegality committed by his Government and suffering inflicted on the people of the country. That is unacceptable,” said Congress leader Anand Sharma. “There is no question of the Prime Minister and the government or, for that matter, the Finance Minister constituting a committee. If they want a consultation process, it should only be with the leadership of political parties. How can the Government decide which CM should be on the panel? It is a further insult to the federal structure of our polity.”
Naidu’s TDP is an ally, Patnaik’s BJD backs the government on an issue-to-issue basis and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) was the only Opposition party that supported the BJP-led government on demonetisation from Day One. Kumar said he was convinced that the move would help fight the menace of black money while party spokesperson Pawan Varma said that the party would not join the protests by the Opposition. Left parties called for a Bharat Bandh while Congress and TMC held protest rallies across the country on Monday against the way the scheme has been rolled out. The TMC demanded withdrawal of the demonetisation decision.
The constitution of the panel, party sources said, is meant to counter the Opposition charge that the government did not take it into confidence while rolling out such a sweeping measure. A united opposition blocked Parliament proceedings in both Houses pointing to the distress across the country, especially in agriculture and the informal sector.
The coming together of parties like the Congress, Trinamool Congress, DMK and Left in protests and the AIADMK’s backing to the protests in the House have troubled the BJP leadership. Its ally Shiv Sena has been blowing hot and cold on its support on the issue. On Monday, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut complained about long queues at ATMs. Sensing growing nervousness among its cadre over reports of hardship from across the country, the BJP leadership held a series of meetings and consultations.
Addressing party leaders from states, BJP president Amit Shah reinforced the PM’s call for a move towards a “cashless economy.” Shah, sources said, told the leaders that the Prime Minister has brought in the demonetisation scheme to expand public spending manifold to enable adequate expenditure on the poor. He admitted that the process had caused hardship to people but said the country “would overcome it,” sources added.