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The ban on Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes in Modi’s war on black money has unintended consequences
Modi calls for support of demonetisation
The winter session of India’s Parliament has started On a stormy note with the opposition joining hands to take on the government over the demonetisation decision, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged them to cooperate in the larger national interest.
To corner the government, leaders from the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Communist Party of India, Nationalist Congress Party, Janata Dal-United and Rastriya Janataa Dal met in Parliament House ahead of the all-party meet called by the government, and decided to raise voice against demonetisation in unison in Parliament.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Benarjee also arrived in the capital to lodge her protest over the issue. The Trinamool Congress supremo, who is virtually at war with the Modi government, also got a shot in the arm when BJP ally Shiv Sena decided to join its march to Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday 16 November to press for rollback of the currency spike decision.
Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah also participated in the march.
While Banerjee herself reached out to several prominent opposition party leaders, including Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, these parties refused to be part of the march.
On the eve of the session, Modi chaired an all-party meeting where he sought cooperation from the opposition for smooth running of the session.
“The Prime Minister has appealed to all parties to use the session to express their views, and debate and discuss important issues of public interest,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar told reporters.
“He also recalled how all the parties supported the government in getting the GST (Goods and Services Tax) Bill passed. Similarly, this is a fight against corruption and fake currency, so all parties should support it,” he said.
Ananth Kumar emphasised that the discussions were “cordial” and that the government is ready to discuss “all issues” that the opposition wants to raise.
However, the political parties declined to oblige, pointing to the inconvenience being caused to the masses by the government’s demonetisation decision.
Flaying the demonetisation decision, Rahul Gandhi said that “it was based on one person’s thinking and could turn out be a mega scam”.
“The big black money players have been allowed to go scot free by the Prime Minister… People like (Vijay) Mallya and Lalit Modi are sitting abroad,” he told media persons in Mumbai.
“Do you see any black money players in the bank queues? There are only farmers, government servants and commoners… Demonetisation has resulted in massive inconvenience to the people and must be sorted out as soon as possible,” he said.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad stressed that the opposition is united against demonetisation, but added that the Congress is not seeking a rollback of the decision.
“We are against the black money. It is not our case that the old currency notes should be continued. But we are concerned about the great inconvenience being caused to the common people,” he told media persons after the all-party meet.
“Millions and millions of people are on the roads, there is an economic chaos across the country,” he said, adding the opposition will raise the issue in both houses.
Noting that all opposition parties are against black money, he said that while all want black money out, this method is wrong.
Azad also said this might lead to unearthing of the biggest scam of the NDA government.
“There was selective leakage. Some people knew about it,” he said. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley denied that the 8 November demonetisation was announced without proper preparations.
“The government was fully prepared before announcing the decision despite the requirement of strict secrecy,” Jaitley said at the meeting.
Meanwhile, Kejriwal accused Modi of receiving bribes while he was the Gujarat Chief Minister and sought a judicial probe into the issue. The Delhi assembly also sought a reversal of the demonetisation move.
The effect on foreign tourists
Linda, a 34-year-old tourist from Sweden, has been facing a traumatic time standing in bank queues for the past few days to get cash.
Apart from the shortage of cash, she has had to suffer people clicking her photo without permission, getting stalked and even listening to lewd comments passed at her. Since the demonetisation move a week ago, Linda and other foreign tourists are an upset lot.
“For the last three days it’s been a big challenge to get some cash,” Linda told IANS standing in the middle of a crushing queue of around 400 people at a Citibank ATM kiosk in Paharganj.
“I had to go to three banks, and every day I had to spend around three to four hours to get cash,” Linda said, referring to the severe cash crunch in the country since the government spiked 500 and 1,000 rupee notes on November 8.
She was also upset by the response of the bystanders, and said, “I went mad, when people here passed lewd comments at me.”
She said many took pictures of her and many tried to follow her to her hotel. “I feel insecure as there is no proper security arrangement at the banks,” Linda said.
She said this was her second visit to India and she has been in the country for about a month. “But my second trip experience has been horrible (due to demonetisation),” she said, adding that most people did not have the correct information.
“What has been more frustrating is that there was no proper information available,” she said, and added that she’s cutting short her visit and returning to her country.
Many other foreign tourists in Delhi are finding it tough to manage.
Rebecca, from England who was on a month’s trip to India, told IANS, “I have had to cut short my trip due to the cash crunch. Now I am going back just after 18 days.
Sharing her experience of standing in the bank queues, Rebecca said, “Standing in the queues is very scary. People stare, they try to come close and they follow us and stalk.”
Kem, a tourist from Japan residing in a hotel in Paharganj area, said, “I have run out of cash. I am unable to buy any food items due to that, so every night I wait at the window of my hotel room and keep a tab on the Citibank ATM just to find out when it will open.”
Kem said he was left with only a single Rs 100 note and the cash crisis had forced him to cancel his trip to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.
Asked how he was paying for his food and hotel bills, Kem said, “I have asked them to wait till the situation improves and I get cash through banks or the ATM machines.”
Several other foreign tourists said they had no option but to return to their countries. Many said they had to depend on the kindness of hotels or restaurants.
Aster, a 50-year-old female tourist from Israel, said, “I had to stay hungry for two days as I did not have any cash with me. But then I requested the restaurant here to accept my currency and adjust it at the Indian currency value.”
She also lamented that there were many people who were trying to profit from the current situation. “Many people are asking us tourists to give our currencies to them at lower rates. This is cheating and it’s very racist” in nature.
“We are not fools that we don’t understand the value of the currency. Right now I am not left with any other choice but to get some cash,” Aster lamented.
However, there are also some people who have helped foreign tourists.
Manju, who runs a mehendi and tattoo shop in Paharganj, told IANS: “A couple from England has been residing in a hotel here for the last one week. I tattooed them but after the old currencies were scrapped they were unable to pay me.”
“They also did not have any cash. So I arranged some home food for them at my home here,” she said.
Local shopkeepers in Paharganj said that earlier the market would teem with foreign tourists but was now virtually empty, post demonetisation.
Harbour, who arrived from Britain on Monday on his 30th trip to India, said, “At the airport I had exchanged some cash as I had to go to Ajmer,” adding that “There is no choice but to cope with the situation.”
“The government should create separate ATM kiosks for foreign tourists in markets and railway stations,” said Harbour, who added that India is like a second home to him as he was born in Haryana’s Rewari district.
More action against black money?
“We will check all the records since Independence. If I come across any unaccounted cash, no one will be spared,” Modi said, addressing the Indian diaspora during his recent trip to Japan.
He said if the money that surfaces in the banking system comes without its legitimacy and source then there will be proper scrutiny since the beginning.
“I believe very clearly, that unaccounted money if it comes to light, then the accounts will be scanned from Independence.”
He said the government would bring in as many people as possible to do this work.
Modi said he had already opened several windows for people to come clean on their ill-gotten wealth. After that, he said, he had to think of other ways and demonetisation was one such step – a matter that had to be kept secret.
He said that after the window offered in September for people to declare their unaccounted wealth, Rs 125 lakh crore was received by banks.
“If after this you think that the situation remains like before then it’s not my fault,” he said, adding that after the demonetisation scheme, “there is no guarantee that more won’t follow”.
At the same time he said that he was aware of the hardship people were facing in India because of the demonetisation move, but emphasised that it was necessary in the larger interests of the nation.
He said people were hailing his decision but alleged that some were being prodded to speak against the government because of politics.
“I know it is difficult. People are made to speak against Modi but I salute the people… some stood in the queues for five hours, six hours but endured the hardship. The same way as people in Japan endured in 2011,” he said, referring to the earthquake-triggered tsunami five years ago that hit Japan.
He said the government had not taken the decision on demonetisation in haste.
“We had given 50 days to people to show their unaccounted wealth” till September, before the government decided to render the large currency bills illegal tender.
Congress spokesman Ajoy Kumar told IANS that Modi’s “dictatorial decision of surgical strikes against black money has turned into a surgical infection for 99 per cent common man of the country”.
“Arrogance of one man has brought the country on the verge of destruction. He took this decision in a haste to show the people that his government is doing something. This is not going to address the issue of black money,” Kumar said.
He accused the government of leaking the information regarding demonetisation to state party units and industry friends, saying they turned their black money into white before the announcement.
“Many reports suggested that during last few months, unexpected amount was deposited in saving accounts in many banks. What does it mean? You saved your money and are targeting 99 per cent of the common man for black money,” he said.
JD-U leader Ali Anwar also took a dig at Modi, saying the Prime Minister should first target big corporates.
“Ambanis and Adanis are also of post-independence era. Even Vijay Mallya flew during their regime. Prime Minister should first target people like him. What is he going to achieve by harassing 99 per cent of population who rarely have black money,” Anwar said.