NEW DELHI -- Just as planned, the Opposition came down on Prime Minister Narendra Modi like a ton of bricks on the first day of the Winter Session of Parliament, comparing him to dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Muammar Gaddafi, and even the French queen Marie Antoinette.
Opposition parties on Wednesday unleashed their wrath over the government's poorly executed demonetisation drive, which has disrupted the lives of millions over the past week. While some lawmakers questioned whether such a step would have any impact on curbing black money, almost everyone talked about the widespread suffering which has come with the scrapping of ₹500 and ₹1000 notes.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury noted that only 2.6 crore of 130 crore Indians have credit cards, and 86 percent of cash in circulation had been demonetised. Yechury said, "Now, we have Modi Antoinette, who says, 'If you don't have paper, use plastic'."
Yechury was borrowing from the infamous "Let them eat cake" remark which is widely attributed to the Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France before the French Revolution, although historians believe that she never actually said it.
Congress Party leader Anand Sharma accused of Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of creating "financial anarchy," and asked Modi to make public the list which had the names of black money hoarders, provided by Swiss banking authorities.
Sharma also asked why BJP leaders were attending the ₹500 crore wedding, organised by mining baron and former BJP minister Gali Janardhan for his daughter, when people were standing for hours trying to get some money out of banks and ATMs. "Everyone claims to be a surgeon today, without ever performing a surgery. Everything is a surgical strike nowadays," he said.
In the initial euphoria of the demonetisation drive, BJP leaders had hailed Modi for conducting a "surgical strike" on black money. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that it was more like "carpet bombing" than a "surgical strike."
Everyone claims to be a surgeon today, without ever performing a surgery.
Mounting a strong defence for his government and boss, Power Minister Piyush Goyal rejected accusations that BJP leaders were tipped off about demonetisation before Modi told the country about it on the evening of Nov. 8.
Goel also said that people supported Modi because they realised that demonetisation would benefit the country in the long run. "No honest tax-payer will lose a single rupee," he said.
While many had responded enthusiastically to the PM's announcement, and appeared ready to bear hardships, the mood of the nation soured considerably after being at the receiving end of the government's disgraceful planning. Not only has the dearth of cash crippled the lives and livelihoods of millions, it has led to people dying from trauma and fatigue. It could be several months before the situation normalises.
The elderly have been especially vulnerable to collapsing when stuck in the serpentine queues in front of every bank and ATM in the country. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that ATM had meant "all time money" but now it is "aayega tab milega."
ATM had meant "all time money" but now it is "aayega tab milega."
Congress Party leader Pramod Tiwari, who compared Modi to Hitler, Mussolini and Gaddafi, said that people would not forget the hardships unleashed on them by the Modi government. "You are getting very bad wishes from the nation," he said.
Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party had a warning for Modi: "if you go to villages today to ask for votes, women will pick up their belans beat you," he said.
Staunchly defending Modi, Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu took strong exception to him being compared to dictators, and said that it was "very very objectionable" to repeatedly question the prime minister's motives.
Naidu said that "common people are very happy about the bold move," but some were agitated because Modi's popularity graph was rising. "This is a historic step to fight corruption. You don't have that much large heart to appreciate and acknowledge the prime minister," he said.
Naidu said that Modi was reviewing the shortcomings of the demonetisation drive, and the government had already ordered separate lines for the elderly and persons suffering from disabilities.
This is a historic step to fight corruption. You don't have that much large heart to appreciate and acknowledge the prime minister.
Despite the terrible toll that demonetisation is taking on people, leaders of the ruling party continued to refer to these problems as "inconveniences." Naidu compared it to giving birth to a child. "Temporary pain for long term gain," he said.
Senior Congress Party leader Digvijaya Singh described Naidu as Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany. "The new Goebbels of India has arrived," he said.
The new Goebbels of India has arrived.
Some lawmakers also warned that corruption would increase with the ₹2000 notes. In fact, the new notes have already surfaced in bribes. In Gujarat, for instance, a payment of a ₹2.9 lakh bribe was made entirely in the new ₹2000 notes.
The debate on demonetisation will continue on Thursday.
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