NEW DELHI -- After a brief appearance in the Rajya Sabha today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi left without addressing Parliament on demonetisation, giving the Opposition an excuse to discontinue the debate and persist with its protestations.
For six days now, the Opposition has held the Winter Session hostage to its demand that Modi participate in a debate on demonetisation and the chaos which has ensued due to its shoddy execution. Top leaders of the Modi government have said that they are willing to debate demonetisation, but there is nothing that compels the prime minister to be present. Both sides accuse the other of running away from the debate.
While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party says that popular sentiment is behind demonetisation despite the hardships that people are facing, its political rivals accuse the Modi government of discounting the acute suffering in the country and the danger posed to the economy.
On Thursday, Modi heard a couple of speakers including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who described the exercise as a "monumental management failure." "Those who say demonetisation is good in the long run should recall the quote: 'In the long run we are all dead'," said Singh, as Modi listened from the treasury benches.
"I want to ask PM that can he name any country where people have deposited their money but are not able to withdraw it," he said, warning that demonetisation could slash the country's GDP by two percent. "I hope that PM will help us find practical ways to give relief to people suffering."
Speaking to reporters in Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely said that government had taken the "right steps" to curb black money and corruption, "which are being implemented in the right manner."
"We were not surprised when we heard from those who ran the country from 2004 to 2014 that they didn't like these anti-black money steps. The maximum black money in this country was generated between 2004 and 2014," he said. "The biggest corruption scandals from the Commonwealth Games, the 2G scandal, the coal block scandal all tool during this period."
When the Upper House convened after lunch and Modi was absent, the government tried to reassure lawmakers that he would eventually return for the debate. But Opposition leaders insisted that Modi had to be present for any further discussion to take place. After making several requests for the debate to continue, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha P.J. Kurien adjourned the Upper House in the midst of sloganeering by the Opposition.
The Lok Sabha did not fare any better. In a shocking display of bad behavior, Samajwadi Party's Akshay Yadav tore up paper and threw it at Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan. "This is not appropriate," she told ANI.
In a press conference after Parliament was adjourned for the day, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury said that he had served a notice for moving a motion of contempt against Modi for not coming to Parliament.
Citing studies done by the Engineering Export Promotion Council, the Left leader said that four lakh people in the garment, leather and jewelry sectors had lost their jobs after demonetisation, and almost 32 million people employed in the textile and government sectors had not received their wages. "By the day, the damage to the economy is increasing," he said.
The Opposition has also announced plans to launch a nationwide protest called "Aakrosh Diwas" on 28 November.
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