The Winter Session of Parliament opened on Wednesday with a united Opposition mounting an assault on the government over demonetisation, saying it had led to "economic anarchy" in the country. The opposition parties also demanded a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the alleged selective leak of information before the official announcement.
While Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day after paying tributes to nine leaders, including sitting TMC MP Renuka Sinha, the seven-hour-long debate in Rajya Sabha, however, remained inconclusive. The debate in Rajya Sabha continued till 6 pm on Wednesday before Deputy Chairman of the House PJ Kurien adjourned it till 11 am tomorrow. Kurien said that the discussion on demonetisation will be resumed on Thursday at 2 pm. "From 11am to 12 pm will be the Zero Hour and Question Hour will be from 12-1 pm," said Kurien. There were repeated demands by the opposition members that the Prime Minister should be present in the House to listen to the members.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said Modi, who did not come to the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, should at least be present tomorrow and possibly intervene. The government rejected as baseless the opposition charge that there was "leakage" of the 8 November decision and said everyone was taken by surprise which is why there are "initial" problems.
Joining ranks over the raging issue, parties like Congress, JD(U), RJD, SP, BSP, Trinamool Congress, Left and AIADMK slammed the government, particularly targeting PM Modi, for making Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination notes invalid and said the "ill-timed" and "ill-conceived" step had severely hit the common people, the farmers and the poor.
During a discussion on demonetisation, which was taken up after suspension of all business in response to notices given by a host of opposition members, a scathing attack was made on the government which strongly defended the step as one taken in national interest and to end corruption and black money, which it linked to terror activities in the country.
Here's a quick recap of what happened today
Anand Sharma uses wit and humour to attack Modi
Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma on Wednesday demanded a probe into "selective leakage" of the demonetisation move, which he termed a "Nadirshahi farman" (autocratic order). Initiating a debate after listed business was suspended to take up a discussion on the 8 November decision to withdraw old higher denomination currency, Sharma used wit and humour to attack Modi for being insensitive to problems caused to the common man.
He asked Modi to state where he got Rs 23,000-24,000 crore, estimated by the International Money Watch Group, for his Lok Sabha elections. He also asked if cheque or credit card payments were made to organise his rally at Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh a few days ago. Alleging that the information on demonetisation was selectively leaked, he said, "Your BJP units have deposited crores (just before the 8 November decision)."
Sharma also sought to know from the Prime Minister as to "who wants to kill him", referring to the Prime Minister's speech in Goa where he had said that with demonetisation resulting in "Looting of their 70 year corrupt earnings, they will destroy me, they can kill me". "There should have been an ordinance for demonetization. But no ordinance was brought. This is a Nadirshahi farman (autocratic order)," Sharma said.
"The decision to demonetise high currency notes was leaked to a select few. Secrecy was not maintained on this issue. It was published in a Gujarati newspaper long back and even other newspapers wrote about it," said Sharma. "There should be a probe into the selective leakage of information," he said, asking: "What did the government do to prepare for effective implementation of the policy."
He also sought to know from the government which law gave it the right to impose limits on withdrawing money from peoples' own accounts. "I condemn Prime Minister's statement in Goa for mocking the people who are standing in queues. He must apologise. Please explain who wants to kill you," said Sharma posing a question to Modi. Congress will not tolerate anyone planning to harm the Prime Minister of the country, he said. "An atmosphere has been created by the government where questioning them has become a parameter to decide one's nationalism," said Sharma.
He sought to know from the Prime Minister as to from where the "15 thousand crore rupees spent on your mega election campaign come from". "Did you pay for your recent Ghazipur rally through credit card," Sharma said mocking the government for asking people to use plastic money for day-to-day expenses.
Sharma also demanded that Modi must disclose the list of those names, who are holding black money in Swiss banks. "Government has a list of those holding black money in Swiss banks. We demand that the Prime Minister must tell who all are there in the list," said Sharma. He said the government should disclose how much money left India between March and September this year and how many people invested in bullion, bought gold or forex during this period.
Sharma took a dig at the government for using the term "surgical strike" in the context of demonetization and the unplanned consequences of the move, saying, "Bina doctori padhe sab surgeon ban gaye (You became a surgeon without training or education)."
Quoting media reports, Sharma said State Bank of India — the country's largest lender — knew of the decision way back in March and a Gujarati newspaper had in April published a report of the move to withdraw Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. He demanded a probe into "how many people bought more than Rs 1 crore of foreign currency and bullion" since April. "This is a serious issue... you never kept secrecy (about the decision)," Sharma said. The "ill-timed" and "ill-conceived" move had unleashed "economic anarchy" in the country and benefited a few, he said, adding that to fight black money created by higher denomination currency, a bigger Rs 2,000 note has been brought which is similar to the paper on which 'churan' is sold and "shed colour" was brought.
"Your government is insensitive," he said adding Modi was riding a bullet train in Japan when old, women and common man were queueing up at banks at 3 am in the morning to get currency to buy their daily needs. Sharma said Modi had in his Goa speech had stated that those standing in line at banks were those involved in 2G spectrum and coal scam as well as holding black money. "I condemn the Prime Minister for calling the poor standing in the queue for his Rs 4,000-4,500, black money holders and scamster," he said.
Taking a dig at the Modi, he said someone who "changes clothes five times a day", has become Prime Minister and travels around the globe was "calling himself a sanyasi and tapasvi".
Sharma demanded that the names of persons holding accounts in Swiss bank and those revealed in the Leichtenstein and HSBC lists should be made public. The names of bank loan defaulters above Rs 5,000 crore should also be made public. While the decision had put the common man to immense hardship by way of having to stand in long queues to lay hands on valid currency to meet daily needs, the information about demonetisation was selectively leaked to the "friends of BJP," Sharma alleged. The move had branded 86 percent of the currency in circulation black money and "everyone a criminal," he said adding when Modi announced the plan it was expected that adequate arrangements would be made for dispensing new notes.
"The magnanimous prime minister allowed Rs 4,000 of old currency to be changed... what right does the Constitution give the government to place restrictions on withdrawal of ones hard-earned money," he asked, adding one has to "beg to be allowed to withdraw his own money." He said former RBI Governor IG Patel had written about the government's decision to demonetise currency in 1978 and it would be absurd to think that all ill-gotten money is kept in cash and not invested in real estate, billion, equities or foreign exchange.
Moving towards cashless economy was fine but even the most developed economies of US or Europe have not achieved that objective yet. If they had, the US central bank would have stopped printing dollars, European Central Bank won't be printing Euros and UK central banks would have stopped printing pound sterling, he said.
Stating that the government had in one stroke declared everyone a criminal, he said the government and the finance minister have stated that terrorists would have benefited if advance information on the decision was given. "Which terrorist goes to RBI with sack full of counterfeit currency to change."
After withdrawing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, restrictions were placed even on foreign tourists who could not get their currency changed.
The Congress leader said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had informed Parliament in August that fake currency was 0.02 percent of the total currency in circulation. "If 0.02 percent by government admission is counterfeit currency, how can that be made the base to remove 86 percent of currency in circulation," he said.
An undeclared emergency has put common people in grave inconvenience, he said while crime money, ill-gotten wealth and that accrued through corruption or tax evasion is blackmoney, Prime Minister should answer if he considered money in the market, or in households, or with farmers, workers and employees was also blackmoney.
"This question arises because a message has gone that Indian economy was run on blackmoney... you decide but don't brand the whole country," he said, adding whether the cash the farmers gets for his crop or the one he uses to buy seeds or fertilizer was blackmoney. He said the move had rendered millions of agriculture workers and labourers unemployed.
Mayawati calls demonetisation ill-timed
As the debate was in progress, BSP chief Mayawati demanded the presence of the Prime Minister in the House to hear out the Opposition parties and address their concerns.
Mayawati questioned the government's preparedness for the demonetisation of high-value bank notes, accusing it of spending the last ten months on settling the black money of its people. Participating in a debate in Rajya Sabha on the demonetisation of high-denomination currency notes, she said: "The government has said that they spent ten months preparing for this decision. Ten months was a long time to prepare. If they were serious about it, they would have prepared well for all the problems that people are facing today."
"What we are witnessing in India today would not have happened had they prepared," she added. Accusing the government of supporting those close to it in settling their ill-gotten wealth, Mayawati said: "In the last ten months, the BJP government has worked to help the party supporters and big businessmen to settle their black money.
"If the government had spent ten months preparing for it, then why do they need another 50 days? There is something fishy."
"Masses are in pain. The Prime Minister must be sleeping after taking pills. The move is without preparedness and people will punish BJP in 2019 during general elections. People of five states going for elections including Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will punish BJP," she said, adding that the poor and the middle classes were the worst sufferers. "It is an immature decision taken in haste and the whole country feels that is an 'economic emergency'," she said adding that it was like a "Bharatbandi situation."
Opposition demands Modi's presence in Rajya Sabha
Mayawati said the House should request the Prime Minister to be present and answer the members' concerns. It is "a very serious issue", she said, adding she has been observing Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, appears "sad".
Her demand was supported by Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, who said the PM must be present in the House to hear out the concerns of various parties.
Earlier, Kurien said he had received as many as 13 notices under rule 267 for suspension of business to take up discussion on inconvience and hardships caused by demonetisation of currency. He said there was a general consensus for discussion and the government too was agreeable, so the list of business as notified stands completely suspended.
Azad demanded that the prime minister should at least "hear out the feelings of six-seven main parties, otherwise there is a mismatch. The feelings of opposition members should be heard by PM. I demand that at least he hears them out and sit in the House at least today. We can wait for him to come."
This was objected to by DP Tripathi (NCP), who said that as Leader of the Opposition he should not distinguish between the big and small parties. Ram Gopal Yadav (who was expelled from Samajwadi Party) joined Anand Sharma to allege that information on demonetisation was "leaked" and termed it as a scam while demanding a thorough probe into it.
"A BJP leader in Punjab had tweeted on 5 November about the new Rs 2,000 note. How did this happen? This is an issue of concern. There is a scam in this. This should definitely be probed," he said, alleging further that 10 percent of the people have 90 per cent of wealth of the country and the remaining 90 per cent do not have anything.
The common people, especially the poor and the housewives were put to great hardship through this move and if elections are held today they will teach this government a lesson, he said, adding that majority of women who saved money through household savings were upset with the move.
"Elections are not fought with money power. You cannot win elections through money power. No one can win elections like that. Elections are won only by winning the hearts of people," he said.
Demonetisation of high denomination currency has created big problems to common people and and law and order situation is being created with police being deployed outside banks to control the queue.
"Do not hold elections now. If you meet and ask for votes from housewives in villages, they will beat you up with 'belan' and you will have to embalm your back with turmeric," he said, adding that you might lose elections if you hold early polls. Yadav said the entire House was against corrupt and drug money, but lamented that an impression is being created that those opposing this are against curbing black money which is erroneous.
JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, who also sought a JPC probe into the suspected leak, said the sudden move was akin to "jumping out of a moving train". He said unlike the rich, who the PM said were standing in queue, it was the poor, handicapped and old people who were doing so to get their hands on their hard earned money. He alleged that while loans worth Rs 7,000 crore was written off today by banks including Rs 1,200 crore of Vijay Mallya and said that the prime minister has made the honesty of the country to stand in queues.
Yadav also took a dig at Jaitley saying he was sure that the Finance Minister was not part of the decision making on demonetisation, because had he been, Jaitley would have tipped him off. This remark left most members including Jaitley laughing.
Yechury renames PM as "Modi Antoinette"
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said that of the 130 crore population in the country, only 2.6 crore have credit cards.
He took a dig at Modi and narrated the infamous quote of Queen Marie Antoinette during the French revolution who had said that people can eat cakes when they don't have bread. "We have Modi Antoinette who says 'If you don't have paper, use plastic'".
Yechury compared the Prime Minister with a Roman ruler. He said a Senator had remarked about this ruler that: "I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it's the sand of the Coliseum. He'll bring them death - and they will love him for it."
Alleging that a BJP unit in Kolkata deposited Rs 1 crore in Indian's Bank Account on 8 November, he said "prove me if I am wrong." He added that Prime Minister was advertising for Paytm while talking about cashless economy.
The CPM leader said 1/5th of the economy is black economy and people who kept black money invested it in real estate, gold etc. That is why the imports surged and stated that it was this PM only who had stated that 95 percent of the black money is stashed offshore and is in safe havens.
"PM is cleaning a pond to kill crocodiles but big crocodiles have survived and only small fishes are dying."
He also demanded that corporate funding of all political parties should stop and there should be a stystem of state funding for elections to which Kurien said "why don't you move a private members bill in this regard."
Terming the demonetisation move as "Tughlaq shahi", he said the length of queues before banks and ATMs was ever increasing and asked why the government was agonising the people. He sought an investigation into the move, saying "let there be a joint parliamentary committee" for a proper probe. "We need to know the motive behind the move" as before every parliamentary session there is some gimmick which diverts attention from other major issues.
With inputs from PTI