Note Ban Part of Plan to Empower Poor, Says Modi
PM defends DeMo in LS, rejects criticism by ‘hypocritical’ Congress and other parties
Our Political Bureau
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi vigorously defended demonetisation in Parliament on Tuesday, projecting it as part of his government’s pro-poor action plan and launched another fierce attack on the Opposition in his reply to the Lok Sabha debate on the motion of thanks for the President’s address.
Modi said he would not flinch in his crusade to ensure that the weakest got their due even if it meant risking the ire of the mighty, who thrive on black money. Equally combative in defending India’s surgical strike on terrorist bases across the line of control, Modi said opposition parties were forced to change their critical tone when they sensed the nationwide support for the army action.
The prime minister characteristically mixed aggression with sarcasm from the outset.
“The earthquake has come finally,” he said. “Though we had been warned of it earlier, I am relieved no damage is caused… Our government, anyway, is in full alert for helping the needy.” Ostensibly referring to Monday night’s tremors across north India, the jibe against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi — not present in the House — was unmissable. Gandhi had pledged an earthquake over an expose against the PM that didn’t quite pan out.
Speaking in Parliament for the first time on note recall that he announced on November 8, Modi twinned demonetisation with the surgical strike, mirroring the strategy of Bharatiya Janata Party in the ongoing assembly election campaign, especially in Uttar Pradesh.
Demonetisation was aimed at those with unaccounted wealth, he said.
“It does not matter how big you are, you will have to give back what belongs to the poor,” Modi said. “My fight is for the poor to ensure they get their due. I will not retreat from this… Earlier the discussion was about how much (black money) has gone (out of the country), now people ask, ‘How much has Modi brought back?’ This is how discourse has changed after we have assumed office. I immensely enjoy this change in discourse.” Modi asserted his government had chosen the timing of demonetisation well as the economy was strong enough to withstand aftershocks following the traditional Diwali business boost. “People asked, why did we bring demonetisation into effect when the economy was doing well,” he said. “As a doctor would say, the best time to perform a surgery is when the body is comple- tely healthy.” He also criticised the Opposition for finding fault with the government’s push for a digital, cashless economy that would make it easier to track transactions. This was hypocritical as Congress often sought to take credit for moving the country into the computer age under Rajiv Gandhi, he said.
Responding to the Opposition accusation that demonetisation rules were changed by the Reserve Bank of India and the government over 100 times, Modi hit back by saying that the previous Congress-led government had changed the rural job programme’s rules more than 1,000 times.
He likened the initiative to another of his pet programmes. “Like Swachh Bharat, the decision on demonetisation is a movement to clean India,” he said.
Accusing the Opposition of disrupting Parliament when he was ready to speak on the note swap, Modi took a dig at Congress floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge.
“Agree with Kharge-ji’s statement that black money is being held in jewellery and property,” Modi said. “The House wants to know when did he realise this… Black money in the form of cash is the primary source of corruption. It is this cash that is invested in bullion, real estate, in foreign banks.” He asked why Congress governments chose not to act on decisions against benami property and hadn’t taken steps to unearth black money.
Chiding the Opposition for opposing the surgical strike and insisting that the public mood forced his rivals to dilute their criticism, Modi said, “No matter how much praise is heaped on our armed forces, it is not enough. Our military is completely capable of defending the nation… Surgical strike was a big decision but no one is questioning it like they questioned demonetisation.”
Modi defended the decision to advance the Budget to February 1 from the end of the month, saying the change in schedule will help government pump in resources and benefit those who need it the most, such as farmers. He reminded Congress that the proposal to change the Budget presentation schedule had in fact been recommended by a panel during the previous government.
He dramatically took off his wrist watch, turned it around to show how independent India slavishly followed the tradition of 5 pm Budget presentation, which had been established to suit the erstwhile colonial masters in Britain and asked why timings be changed, keeping in mind the needs of India. The last BJP-led Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had advanced the Budget timing to 11 am from 5 pm.
Modi also defended the absorption of the railway budget into the main one, saying trains were no longer the sole mode of mass transportation and therefore a holistic approach was needed. He also said the government had rolled out a large number of social sector schemes in a short span with bigger outlays while weeding out middlemen and plugging leakages.