The political storm over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to deny audience with an all-party delegation from Kerala refuses to subside, even a week after the incident.
The delegation, comprising the chief minister, finance minister and MLAs, had planned to submit a resolution that requested the Centre to allow co-operative banks to exchange demonitised Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes and accept deposits like other commercial banks.
The resolution was passed by the state legislative assembly during its special sitting, convened in the wake of crisis in the co-operative sector, on 23 November.
Leaders of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) have successfully kept the ‘Modi snub’ in the limelight for a long time to corner the BJP.
Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, had launched a scathing attack on Modi for not showing democratic values. “One cannot expect democratic values from a government led by an organisation that consider Hitler and Mussolini as their models.”
Former chief minister and senior Congress leader, Oommen Chandy, was equally harsh in his criticism of the prime minister. “Never before in the history of independent India had the Prime Minister declined to meet the delegation from a State. You had insulted Kerala by denying permission to this delegation. It was an insult to the federal structure of India.”
Dr J Prabhash, a prominent psephologist and head the of political science department at the Kerala University, opined that the prime minister has set a dangerous precedence. “It was an indication that Modi didn’t care about the state of affairs in Kerala. It would affect the centre-state relationship.”
War On Co-Operatives
The BJP began to train its guns on primary co-operative banks after the Reserve Bank of India imposed restrictions on them. The party alleged that co-operative banks are the hubs of unaccounted money and asked the Centre to take stern actions. It was a part of a carefully planned political game as most of the banks were controlled either by CPM or Congress (I).
The tough stand against co-operative banks, which are considered as the lifeline of rural economy, hasn’t gone down well with a large number of party sympathisers. Besides, Modi’s decision to deny permission to the legislators gave them the feeling that BJP is a predominantly North Indian political party.
“Many BJP sympathisers hold accounts in co-operative banks controlled by CPM and Congress. The party took a wrong decision to fight against the rural financial institutions. It eroded people’s confidence in the party. Besides, our rivals have succeeded in portraying BJP as an anti-Kerala party,” said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
App Vs People’s Representatives
It was an irony that the prime minister had asked people to express their views on demonetisation, albeit through his own app, a day before he denied permission to meet people’s representatives from Kerala.
Modi had urged the people to take part in a survey on the NM App as he wanted to get first-hand view on the demonetisation drive. A day later, he announced that 90 per cent of the respondents believed that black money existed in India, and supported the government to move to eradicate it. “I thank people for the historic participation in the survey. It’s satisfying to read the insightful views and comments,” the PM had tweeted.
Political analysts derided the exercise as a desperate attempt to shore up his waning public support.
Prabhash opined Modi would have understood the pulse of the people had he interacted with the legislators from Kerala. “How can he gauge the mood of the nation through an app survey? How many people in India use mobile phone and application? If he really wanted to know the pulse of the nation, he should have conducted a referendum,” he said.
Before Modi refused the audience with Kerala delegation, the BJP had even tried to term the resolution passed by the Assembly as unconstitutional.
Union finance minister, Arun Jaitley, fired the first salvo when he alleged that Kerala had breached the federalist structure by passing a resolution on a financial issue.
BJP state president, Kummanam Rajashekharan, echoed the sentiment while talking to journalists on November 24 in Thiruvananthapuram. “Only Centre has the right to decide on the country’s currency issues. No assembly in the country can pass such a resolution. So the Kerala assembly resolution is unconstitutional.”
However, legal experts found no substance in the allegation. They felt the accusations were politically motivated.
MA Rashid, co-founder, Live Law, India’s prominent legal news portal, said the Assembly has every right to express concern over issues that affect millions of people. “The assembly didn’t pass a law. The legislators expressed their concern about the crisis in co-operative sector. Expressing dissent on a decision by the union government is not unconstitutional or against the federal structure. Moreover, the constitutionality of demonetisation is yet to be verified by the courts.”
Advocate T Asaf Ali, former director general of prosecutions, opined that Assembly has not done anything wrong, “The assembly convened for a day to request the Centre to ameliorate people’s difficulties following RBI restrictions on co-operative banks. The BJP is trying to politicise the issue.”