It was an unusual moment in the Rajya Sabha. Dr Manmohan Singh rose to speak: “Monumental mismanagement has been undertaken in implementation of demonetisation”, he said in a soft but firm voice and went on to condemn the move in no uncertain terms: “It is a case of organised loot, legalised plunder of the common people.”
When was the last time the former prime minister who attends Parliament almost every day but chooses to remain silent, spoke in the Rajya Sabha? One will have to jog one’s memory to recall the occasion. It isn’t that he hasn’t spoken at all. He spoke in the last session of Parliament in support of a private member’s bill moved by a Congress member from Andhra Pradesh seeking a special package for the state which is yet to emerge from the scars of the bifurcation. But other than that he has remained a front bencher in the Rajya Sabha, present but largely silent.
WATCH VIDEO: Former PM Dr Manmohan Singh Says Demonetisation Will Hit Growth
For the last few days, Congress strategists have been thinking of different ways to outwit the aggressive BJP government on its demonetisation drive. And one of the ideas was to field Dr Singh. They thought of asking him to issue a statement first and then zeroed in on the need for him to speak on the grand stage of Parliament. And Dr Singh spoke out strongly against demonetisation and its impact on the economy. “This will hurt agriculture, small industry and everyone in the unorganised sector. My view is that GDP growth can fall by 2 per cent and that is an underestimate,” said the former prime minister this morning in the Rajya Sabha.
His condemnation of the move, the government and the RBI carries a lot of weight with almost everyone. The reasons are quite simple. He is among the handful of Congress leaders who still enjoys maximum credibility and can boast of financial integrity – attributes Prime Minister Narendra Modi often showcases as his strength.
Singh also has unparalleled credibility among the front-ranking Opposition figures and carries tremendous weight as an economist. He was RBI governor between 1982 to 1985 and his legacy as the finance minister who ushered in economic reforms in the 1990s and his economic acumen in steering the country out of global slowdown in the first decade of this century, is still fresh in everyone’s memory and earns him considerable respect.
So when he speaks on economic issues in particular, people listen and his views are taken very seriously not just by the government and the elite corporate world but by the middle class which many believe has approved of the unprecedented scrapping of high denomination notes — a move which is being projected by the government as a game changer reform step. “It is no good that everyday the banking system comes with modification of the rules, the conditions under which the people can withdraw money. That reflects very poorly on the Prime Minister’s office, on the Finance Minister’s office and on the Reserve Bank of India,” he said.
Singh was once the darling of the same middle class which drifted away from the Congress in 2014, triggering its collapse. Although he is a man of few words, the Congress knows the world will listen to him when he speaks, especially when it is so rarely.