While the remainder of the winter session of Parliament, which concludes on Friday, is set for a washout, opposition parties believe they have two weeks, that is until the New Year’s Eve, to build a nationwide narrative against Narendra Modi government’s ‘note ban’ decision.
The Modi government and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are biding their time until December 31, the scheduled end of the demonetisation exercise, after which the PM is likely to unveil sops for the poor. In the interregnum, the BJP plans to counter opposition propaganda by attacking the Congress-led UPA for its multitude of scams.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that high denomination notes, as percentage of total currency in circulation, increased from a mere 36% to over 80% during UPA regime, that is from 2004 to 2014. Jaitley’s was a reference to alleged ill-gotten money from the scams being hoarded in high denomination currency notes.
The opposition, comprising 17 political parties with the Congress in the lead, will have a meeting at the end of the winter session to strategise a common theme for their protests across the country until December 31st.
The protests and awareness campaigns against ‘note ban’ will focus on three issues – job losses in the informal sector, how ‘note ban’ is a “grand scam” to benefit select industrialists and allegations that BJP state units had advance information, which helped them convert their unaccounted money into ‘white’ money.
Some of the opposition parties, particularly the Trinamool, are aware of the Achilles’ Heel of the Congress on corruption, and have insisted that a united opposition should instead shift the discourse to the human suffering because of ‘note ban’.
In a show of unity, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh will hold a public rally in Muzaffarnagar on December 22 and has invited several leaders of other opposition parties, including the Trinamool and Nationalist Congress Party.
According to Congress and Trinamool leaders, the unity among 17 opposition parties needs to be taken to the streets. “As the principal opposition party, the Congress already demonstrated that leadership role in parliament. We will initiate groundwork for joint nationwide protests against demonetisation outside parliament,” Congress veteran Satyavrat Chaturvedi said. Coordination with regional players in the states has been left to the respective state Congress units.
The Congress has planned that its leaders will visit areas and sectors that have suffered the most “pain”. On Tuesday, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi visited the Dadri grain market in Western Uttar Pradesh. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram addressed a press conference in Nagpur. In Vijayawada, Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury said note ban was a huge scam.
The Congress units in Delhi and Mumbai have started holding public meetings dubbed as “note pe charcha” over the issue. The Trinamool on Tuesday started a three-day block level campaign in Bengal to highlight the impact of note ban on the state’s leather, jute and tea industries. Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has taken to tweet against ‘note ban’ in Hindi.
Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien said Banerjee was the first to visit a wholesale vegetable market in Delhi to highlight the ‘note ban’ impact. “The real estate sector is badly hit. Ludhiana’s hosiery mills have suffered job losses. Informal sector workers have either not received wages or lost their jobs. Our party will highlight this,” he said.
The winter session of Parliament, which will resume after a four-day break on Wednesday, is unlikely to transact any business in the last three days of the session that concludes on Friday.
Opposition parties will have a meeting on Wednesday morning to decide their strategy in Parliament for the next three days but are unwilling to let the Finance Minister initiate the discussion in the Lok Sabha on ‘note ban’.
The BJP, meanwhile, has issued a whip to its MPs and asked them to be present in Demonetisation India the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for the remainder of the winter session.