Terming demonetisation a “political move” made without preparation, Congress on Sunday said it is being sold as a “step against black money” and the Reserve Bank of India did not give the advice it should have offered to the government. “Who gave the advice I do not know, but I believe, as Manmohan Singh had said in Rajya Sabha, that Reserve Bank of India did not give the advice it should have offered,” party spokesperson Jairam Ramesh said.
The economy has been growing at 7-7.5 per cent and the decision was taken only for political reasons, he alleged. Ramesh made it clear that Congress did not call for a ‘Bharat bandh’ and alleged that BJP was spreading disinformation in this regard.
The Opposition parties will hold protests against demonetisation across the country by observing “Jan Aakrosh Diwas” on Monday, he said, adding that economic activity has anyway come to a standstill since November 9.
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Ramesh termed the decision to scrap high-value currency notes a “political decision for three reasons”.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes in ‘dhamaka’ politics. This is a dhamaka (bang) that has changed the narrative. Since November 8 there is no talk, but of demonetisation,” he said. The second reason is that Modi had seen the “writing on the wall” in Uttar Pradesh, which goes to polls next year.
And thirdly, to cover up the government’s failure to deliver on the Prime Minister’s big electoral promise of bringing back black money stashed abroad. “We welcome steps taken to eradicate black money. But I am afraid…all best estimates are that only 6 per cent of it is kept in the form of cash. So to address this problem, you have put 80 per cent of India through hardships… While common people were facing difficulties, the actual culprits are leading lives of luxury,” Ramesh said.
He said it may take 250 days to print the required number of currency notes to get the economy back on track. If notes are printed abroad, it will be a mockery of “Make in India” initiative of the government.
The Congress leader said “a cashless society Modi has been talking of” may become a reality after 100 years, but not in the near future when a majority depends on cash transactions. “Does the Prime Minister want to have cash-less mandis? Does the PM want to have the unorganized sector working cashless? I am sorry to say it’s a ridiculous proposition, to say that India will become cashless and all these economic sectors will become cashless,” he said.
Such transitions take time and cannot be forced through shocks, he said. Asked why Congress’ ally Nitish Kumar was not in favour of protests against demonetisation, Ramesh said JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav was supporting it.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley came to the defence of RBI Governor Urjit Patel in the wake of criticism by Ramesh, saying it is an “unfair attack” and politicians should refrain from making comments on those who cannot defend themselves.
“An unfair attack by Jairam Ramesh on the RBI Governor. Must politicians attack those who can’t defend themselves in the same tone?” he said in a tweet. Ramesh said it is estimated that only 5-10 per cent of black money is kept in cash, while most of it is in the form of gold, silver, benami property or stashed abroad.
A lot of discomfiture had been caused to people by demonetising Rs 500 notes abruptly, he said.
Citing National Investigation Agency (NIA) estimates, he said counterfeit notes make up just 0.02 per cent of the total currency in circulation. To tackle this, 80 per cent of people, be it farmers, the unorganised and small-scale sector have been subjected to inconvenience.
The Prime Minister had remarked “na khaaonga, na khaane doonga”, but Saurabh Patel, who was a minister in the then Modi-led Gujarat government, is learnt to have been linked to a company based in Bahamas, where many tax evaders go, Ramesh alleged.
Patel was removed from his post over some dispute, he claimed. Asked if Congress was in favour of holding of Lok Sabha and Assembly elections simultaneously, Ramesh said there were merits as well as demerits of it.
In 2002, a Congress party committee headed by Manmohan Singh had suggested that there should be state funding of elections, he said, adding that various state elections also enforced accountability.
He claimed that the Pune-based organisation, which is said to be behind the the demonetisation idea, has also said the way it is being implemented is not what they had suggested.
Congress was not against the objectives of the measure and will support steps against black money and corruption, but the reality of the situation is different, he said.