WITH THE Opposition stepping up the heat against the demonetisation drive, leading to disruptions in both Houses of Parliament, the government prepared to weather the storm at least till the beginning of next week in the hope that the cash crunch caused by the withdrawal of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes would have somewhat eased by then.
Led by the Congress, the Opposition parties refused to allow Rajya Sabha to function unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi responds to their questions on the currency move that “has caused hardship to the common man”. The Lok Sabha also witnessed noisy disruptions, with the Opposition demanding a discussion under a rule that mandates voting.
WATCH VIDEO: Uproar In Parliament Over Demonetisation Debate: Here’s What Happened
The government, however, refused to make any commitment on whether the Prime Minister would speak on Friday; he stayed away from Rajya Sabha on Thursday even though it was the Prime Minister’s question day in the upper house.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the government would take a call on who would eventually respond to issues raised by the Opposition. Sources said the government may agree early next week to the Opposition’s demand in Rajya Sabha for Prime Minister Modi’s intervention in the debate and in Lok Sabha for an adjournment motion.
Elaborating on the government strategy, sources said that its expectation was that the long queues outside banks and ATMs, which has started making BJP leaders nervous about the political cost of the demonetisation scheme, will ease over the weekend.
“With more currency being released, there should be some normalcy by Monday. Besides, the government has announced fresh measures like allowing withdrawal up to Rs 2.5 lakh for weddings and up to Rs 50,000 for farmers. These should provide relief to the common man,” a Union Minister told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
Sources in the Opposition said that the Congress is planning to put more pressure on the government, indicating that the party may work in tandem with other Opposition parties to keep shifting the goalposts and “expose the failure of the government”.
WATCH VIDEO: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Rules Out Roll Back Of Demonetisation Move
In Rajya Sabha Thursday, the Opposition forced four adjournments in the first half, which included a remark on the Prime Minister by TMC MP Derek O’Brien, which was later expunged, and demands from AIADMK members for the setting up of a Cauvery Management Board to resolve the water dispute.
The Treasury benches rose to counter the Opposition, with the mention of the Prime Minister bringing Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, Social Justice Minister Thavar Chand Gehlot and Minister of State for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman to their feet.
But their voices were drowned out by Opposition members who reached the well of the House, with Congress MPs shouting “Pradhan Mantri, jawab do (Prime Minister, give a reply)”.
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien stepped in to say that “if the Finance Minister is available, that is enough” and expunged certain references to the Prime Minister made by some Opposition members.
Naidu and Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad also engaged in a heated exchange over the Congress leader’s remarks, which were later expunged.
Later, speaking to reporters, Azad asked the BJP to apologise to the nation for heaping hardships caused because of its “ill-prepared decision” to withdraw the notes.
“BJP should apologise to the nation and especially the farmers, workers and employees, small traders many of whom are without food and ration for the last one week. Daily wagers are not getting their wages… At least 43 people have died so far. In the history of independent India, no other government or prime minister’s announcement has caused such pain and hardship to the people and led to so many deaths,” he said.
Azad also accused the government and BJP of seeking to tar those who question it as “anti-nationals”. “Whenever we seek answers from this government… the BJP says if a Hindu is asking questions, he is anti-national, and if a Muslim poses a question, he is labelled a Pakistani,” he said.
In the evening, senior ministers Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Prakash Javadekar, held a meeting and decided to attack the Congress for “comparing terrorism with the effect of demonetisation”. Sources said the BJP would insist on an unconditional apology from Azad for his remarks to this effect in the House, which were later expunged. BJP strategists said this would be an effective offensive against the Opposition and appeal to nationalist sentiments.
In the House, earlier, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kumar tried to make a statement following the exchange between Naidu and Azad, but could not be heard in the din — soon, Kurien adjourned the House.
In the Lok Sabha, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan managed to conduct Question Hour amid slogan-shouting by Opposition MPs, but adjourned the House for the day a little after noon. Kumar offered to conduct a discussion but made it clear that it would have to be under Rule 193, which does not provide for voting later.
The Congress and TMC MPs, however, insisted that their adjournment motion under Rule 56 be accepted, for a debate with voting. When the government refused to budge, MPs from the Congress, TMC, NCP, SP, JD-U, RJD and the Left parties reached the well of the House and stated shouting slogans.
TMC MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay later told reporters that his party would not participate in any discussion in the Lok Sabha until the Speaker admitted the adjournment motion.
Meanwhile, a senior BJP leader admitted that pictures of long queues outside banks and ATMs, as well as reports of demonetisation-related deaths, have disturbed party strategists and the government.
“If things do not come under control within 48 hours, people will start losing their patience and it would be bad news for the party,” said the leader.
“But the measures taken by the government should ease the pressure and the queues should reduce or disappear soon. This would place the government in a better position to defend itself and promote the move in Parliament,” he said.
On the Opposition’s demand for the Prime Minister’s participation in the Parliament debate, a senior BJP leader said, “We are quite confident that the Prime Minister can speak and he will remove many apprehensions, too. But we need to see a better atmosphere outside the House.”
On the issue of NDA allies, such as Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), not being on the same page on the issue, the BJP leader said that Home Minister Rajnath Singh has had a chat with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on the issue, which has improved the situation.
Thackeray is expected to meet Singh in Delhi on Friday morning. “The party will ensure that the government has the full backing of the NDA allies before we face a debate in Parliament,” said the leader.