While announcing the demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India would have to endure some hardships if the country was to combat corruption, tax evasion and the menace of black money. Now, we may all be called on to make "sacrifices" for the country from time-to-time, but it is worth pointing out that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wasn't always quite so gung-ho about demonetisation.
Barely six months before coming to power, when the BJP was in the Opposition, the party had opposed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's decision to withdraw all currency notes issued prior to 2005. At the time, the BJP said that the move would do little to curb black money and accused the Congress Party-led government of being "anti-poor."
In January 2014, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) hit out at currency hoarders and counterfeiters by withdrawing from circulation of all currency notes issued prior to 2005. The BJP pretty much said the same things that its political rivals are saying now.
"The latest gimmick of the finance ministry to demonetise the notes, printed before 2005, is an attempt to obfuscate the issue of black money stashed outside the country... This measure is strongly anti-poor," Meenakshi Lekhi, BJP's spokesperson said at the time. "The aam aurats and the aadmis, those who are illiterate and have no access to banking facilities will be the ones to be hit by such diversionary measures."
At the time, then RBI governor Raghuram Rajan said that the 2014 move wasn't "an attempt to demonetise. It is an attempt to replace less effective notes with more effective notes..."
Lekhi's remarks stand out in light of how BJP leaders have downplayed the panic and stress triggered by its sudden decision to scrap two widely-circulated currency notes. The worst sufferers are people who are entirely dependent on cash for their day-to-day transactions and for supporting their families. The queues outside ATMs and bank windows have grown longer, as people have run out of ₹100 notes. The extent of the problem in the more remote areas isn't even clear as of now.
Pointing out that the vast majority of Indians don't have bank accounts, Lekhi had said in 2014, "They will fall victim to middlemen who will scare them that the notes are worthless and charge them hefty fees to convert them. They will also be ripped off by shopkeepers."
"This policy of Mr. P Chidambaram is only meant for the blue blood and not for the sweating, red-blooded, toiling millions. It is not going to affect those who have numbered accounts in Swiss accounts, but will hit those who do not have any bank account even in India," she had said.
You can read Lekhi's blog slamming demonetisation here. "The RBI must publish a note on how many currency pieces will be affected, how many of these are in rural India, and estimate the impact of this measure on the poor. This is an unjustified attack on poor people. RBI must conduct a full and impartial inquiry into the impact this measure will have," she wrote.
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