Returning to Parliament from campaigning in states headed to assembly polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mounted a scathing attack Tuesday on the Congress, accusing it of not taking steps against black money in the past for fear of an electoral backlash. He justified the demonetisation move, saying it was the right time to “clean” the economy. Replying to a Lok Sabha debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address, Modi came down heavily on the Congress for “attributing everything to one family” and took a swipe at Rahul Gandhi for his remark that there would be an earthquake were he to speak on the demonetisation move.
“There was an earthquake,” the Prime Minister said, speaking the morning after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake rattled much of north India and had its epicentre in Uttarakhand. “The earthquake finally took place. When someone starts seeing virtues of service and humility even in scam, it saddens mother earth, triggering an earthquake,” he said of Rahul.
His speech, peppered with sarcasm and criticism of the Opposition, especially the Congress, was repeatedly interrupted by Opposition members. Modi tried to corner the Opposition over its “stand” on the surgical strikes along the Line of Control last September. Projecting his government as “pro-poor”, he pitched for simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies and urged parties to rise above political interests and avoid wastage of time and resources.
Trying to allay apprehensions over the demonetisation exercise, the Prime Minister said it was a well-thought-out decision taken for the good of the country. He said the timing of the November 8 decision was “perfect”.
“Some people felt why such a decision when the economy was doing good… Before subjecting a patient to surgery, a doctor checks all parameters of the patient. Only when those parameters are fine is the operation done. It was the best time for demonetisation as the economy was strong. Had the economy been weak, then we could not have done it successfully,” he said.
The Prime Minister pointed out that the post-Diwali period is when the business cycle subsides after peaking during the festival season. “Do not assume that Modi does anything in haste. For that, you will need to study Modi,” he said.
Responding to criticism of the number of notifications during implementation of the demonetisation exercise — TMC’s Saugata Roy pointed out that rules were changed 150 times — Modi said the UPA government had changed rules of MGNREGA scheme 1,035 times in six years.
“After demonetisation, we did our best to help people who were facing issues. We also had to tweak rules to stop those who were trying to game the system, those adept at theft.”
The Prime Minister said the suggestion for demonetisation to eradicate black money had been made to late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi but she had rejected it, fearing a public backlash. “You were scared of elections. But we are not worried about elections. We are worried about the country. Hence, we took this decision,” he said.
He blamed the Opposition for the washout of the winter session saying they did not want to discuss demonetisation but preferred to give sound bites to TV channels.
Agreeing with Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s argument that black money gets parked in gold and properties, Modi said: “But we want to know when did this realisation dawn on you? Because nobody can deny that corruption starts with cash, and the result is jewellery or property or gold… in 1988, Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister with a bigger mandate than even Nehru. From panchayat to Parliament, everything was under your control… The benami law was enacted in 1988 but it was never notified… What is the reason that for 26 years, the law was not notified? Had it been notified 26 years ago, it would have been a step towards cleaning the country.”
He said the Congress always tried to promote the contribution of one family — the Gandhis — and neglected contributions of Veer Savarkar, even Bhagat Singh.
Claiming that he had changed the “work culture” in the government and produced results using the same system that the previous governments had, he said: “Changes don’t happen on a whim. Proper process and planning are being followed,” he said, adding that 22,27,000 houses for poor had been built by his government, Rs 7,633 crore leakage in social programmes had been stopped and 76,000 villages had been connected with optical fibre network with last-minute connectivity.
The Prime Minister’s attack on Congress included a sharp reaction to Kharge’s “dog” remark — he had said Modi could not claim patriotism of “even a dog from his family”.
“Hum kutton wali parampara se pale bade nahin hain (We have not been brought up in this sort of obsequious tradition). Khargeji said it’s with the grace of the Congress that this country remain a democratic country and that’s how I became a PM. You have done us a great favour,” he said, adding it was the “people’s power” that helped the country survive Emergency in 1975 and “made the son of a poor woman the Prime Minister of the country”.