25/11/2016 10:36 AM IST | Updated 25/11/2016 11:44 AM IST

Why The Congress Fielded Manmohan Singh To Take Down Demonetisation

The former prime minister's personal integrity, vast experience and grasp of economics is universally acknowledged.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh in a file photo.

The Opposition has been protesting against demonetisation in Parliament ever since the Winter Session started but nothing had had the kind of impact yet that former prime minister Manmohan Singh's address did when he spoke in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

Often ridiculed for being quiet as a mannequin during his tenure as the prime minister, yesterday Singh ripped apart what the Narendra Modi government has been claiming was a bold move to rid the nation of black money and counterfeit notes, calling it "organised loot and legalised plunder."

Singh debunked the arguments in favour of demonetisaton, which so far has grossly inconvenienced millions of citizens across the country and is being linked to many deaths, point by point.

Addressing those who have been arguing for demonetisation's long-term benefits, Singh said, "For those saying this is good in the long run, it reminds me of John Keynes' words, 'In the long run we are all dead.'"

In response to the government's claims that the move will be good for the economy, Singh said, "The GDP of the country can decline by two percentage points, this is an underestimate not an overestimate."

And, as Singh continued to speak to applause and cheers from the Opposition benches, the government had no choice but to listen.

The Congress party was clearly aware of the weight Singh's intervention would hold. And, such harsh criticism by a man of few words has resonated with many. Facebook and Twitter timelines were buzzing with cheers for the former prime minister.

Reports suggest that the Grand Old Party had been planning to field Singh to speak against demonetisation for more than a week.

According to the Indian Express, the Congress had wanted Singh to give a television interview but that could not happen because of his health. When they heard that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in the Rajya Sabha, they decided to let Singh speak.

The IE report suggests that though Opposition leaders have been meeting to strategise for the protests, no one from the other parties was aware that Singh would be speaking.

That Singh is looked up to as a voice of reason was pointed out by Congress leaders over and over again after his speech. "The country should pay heed to what Manmohan Singh says because there is nobody in the history of independent India with such credentials in economic administration as he has," the Telegraph quoted Jairam Ramesh as saying. "Not only does he have academic understanding of the economy but he is one person who has been part of the system for decades,"

Attacking the government, Ramesh said, "Modi should listen to his views instead of relying on WhatsApp surveys. He should pay heed to serious critique from a person who knows the system, the economy and governance. If he says farmers will be hurt, small businesses will be affected and workers of unorganised sectors will suffer... the government should wake up."

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley countered Singh's arguments, saying that most of the black money had been generated during Singh's tenure as the prime minister.

"Those who did not consider the generation of so much black money and scams during their regime as blunder are now finding the crusade against black money as blunder," Jaitley said.

But with public opinion turning ambivalent towards demonetisation and the Modi government's accompanying hype, Singh's stinging criticism is likely to have an impact. For those who have had to endure long queues, loss of income and other hardships over the last ten days, Singh's words might resonate more than Jaitley's. And, in this sense, Congress might have played its ace.