As his government braced for a stormy start Wednesday to the winter session of Parliament over its demonetisation decision, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday urged all parties to work together to change the negative perception of people about politicians. But the Opposition, despite differences in the ranks, put up a united front, calling the demonetisation of higher denomination notes a “currency scam” that needed to be probed.
On the Opposition table for Day 1 of the month-long session were a range of options — a march to Rashtrapati Bhavan to seek the President’s intervention, building consensus for a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), or simply cornering the government in the House over its decision.
Ally Shiv Sena also dealt the ruling BJP a blow when it announced it would join the march to Rashtrapati Bhavan, to be led by West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee, because the hardship caused to the public by “demonetisation is not a party matter… the country is in a state of financial anarchy”.
Aware of the build-up in the Opposition camps, Prime Minister Modi, who has already said he intends to push ahead with his drive to weed out black money, told floor leaders of parties in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha: “Parliament is the right forum to send out a positive message about politicians by addressing issues appropriately. Politicians are accused of several things and it is time we send out a positive message to the people.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi set the tone for his party when he told reporters in Mumbai: “This move by the Modi government will turn out to be a big scam. BJP workers were seen holding bundles of new Rs 2,000 notes, as seen from images on the Internet, before Modi announced this decision.”
Claiming “I don’t think even Finance Minister knew about the demonetisation announcement”, Rahul said: “The Prime Minister took the decision without thinking. We don’t want to reverse it, but at least resolve the difficulties people are facing.”
Earlier in the day, top Congress leaders met at Sonia Gandhi’s 10, Janpath residence to chalk out the party’s strategy in Parliament.
Leaders of 12 Opposition parties, who attended a meeting convened by Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, were agreeable to the idea of a JPC probe but decided to first raise the demonetisation issue in Parliament.
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Congress leaders had proposed the idea of a JPC at the meeting of Opposition parties on Monday as well, but there were not many takers. Azad broached the matter again Tuesday and leaders like Sharad Yadav seemed open to the idea.
“We don’t want to let the issue die down that easily. If the government agrees to a debate, then we cannot just discuss and forget. We have to have a Plan B. We haven’t taken a decision but we are agreeable to the JPC idea,” a senior Opposition leader told The Indian Express.
The meeting was attended by Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge and Anand Sharma, JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, Mohammed Salim and P Karunakaran, NCP’s Tariq Anwar, RJD’s Prem Chand Gupta and Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav, CPI’s D Raja, TMC’s Nadimul Haque, SP’s Dharmendra Yadav, BSP’s Satish Chandra Misra, DMK’s Kanimozhi, JMM’s Sanjeev Kumar and RSP’s N K Premachandran.
The TMC informed the Opposition leaders about Mamata Banerjee’s plan to meet President Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday, but the others said while they were not opposed to the idea, they would like to raise the issue first in Parliament.
Sources said the Prime Minister, while speaking at the all-party meeting, indicated that the government may agree to a discussion.
A statement from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs quoted the Prime Minister saying it is time the issues of state funding of elections and holding simultaneous elections in the country are discussed. “Since all parties are concerned about the consequences of unaccounted money on the economy, let this issue be discussed in detail along with other issues of concern…,” he said.
The BJP was jolted when Shiv Sena said it would join the TMC march Wednesday. Speaking to The Indian Express, Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena parliamentary party leader, said: “Our members of Parliament will join the march. Uddhavji (party president Uddhav Thackeray) stated at a meeting of party MPs and senior leaders today that demonetisation is not a party matter. Nor is it a government-versus-opposition issue. The country is in a state of financial anarchy.”
Raut quoted Uddhav saying “we want an end to the hardship being faced by people and we will meet the President separately also to apprise him on the issue”. The Sena has also sought an appointment with the Prime Minister.
“We fully support Modiji’s surgical strike against black money, but we are against the method employed by him… the system is flawed and, if not checked, the country could soon witness a law-and-order problem,” Raut quoted Uddhav.
The Sena chief told his party colleagues that they might be asked why an NDA partner was aligning itself with Mamata Banerjee, an Opposition leader. “If Modiji can sit with Sharad Pawar (NCP president), then we can also go with Mamata,” Uddhav was quoted saying.
NC leader Omar Abdullah is also expected to join the march. But AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, who too was expected to join Banerjee’s march, seemed to have dropped the idea because the party “cannot afford to be seen with Shiv Sena”.
TMC leader Derek O’Brien tried to rally the Opposition: “We appeal to all political parties to come and stand with the people… people are suffering. If things come to such a pass that if he comes, I won’t come… then it is a fight for egos, not a fight for the country.”