Prime Minister Narendra Modi today accused the Congress leadership of “desperation” in the face of his “tough” demonetisation decision and said it was the first time that a concerted effort was made by the Opposition to “openly” protect the dishonest through disruptions in Parliament.
He also slammed Manmohan Singh, who had described demonetisation as a “monumental mismanagement” and an “organised loot”, and sarcastically said that his predecessor might have been referring to the “unending string of scams” like 2G, CWG and coal block allocation “under his leadership”.
Modi said while the honest will not be harassed, those with black wealth have “only a few days to hide” and will not be spared. “I pity a few of our opponenets, especially the Congress leadership, for the desperation they have been exhibiting …Congress leaders are entirely pre-occupied with only one thing – elections,” he added further.
“There is nothing political in the demonetisation decision…It was a tough decision taken to clean up our economy and our society. If I were guided by short term electoral politics, I would have never done so,” he told India Today in an interview.
With regard to the washout of the recent Winter session due to disruptions over demonetisation, the Prime Minister said the government tried its best to keep Parliament functioning.
“I was keen to speak in both Houses. Yet, there was a concerted attempt by the Congress to derail the functioning of the Houses rather than have a proper debate. While opposition in Parliament is understandable, this is the first time it is being used to protect the dishonest and that too so openly,” he said.
On Manmohan Singh’s attack, Modi said, “it is interesting that the words ‘monumental mismanagement’ come from a leader who has been at the helm of India economic journey for around 45 years.
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“His reference to ‘organised loot’ was perhaps a reference to the unending string of scams under his leadership, from the coal scam to the 2G and CWG scams. Demonetisation on the other hand is an unprecedented step to confiscate the loot of the corrupt.”
Asked whether demonetisation will end corruption in the political system, the Prime Minister said “decisive ways” were required for that. “There is a need for reforms in the political system,” he said.
He said before the Winter session, he had suggested that there should be discussion in Parliament on reform of the political system and electoral reforms but this could not happen due to disruptions.
Rejecting criticism that the demonetisation decision was political, it was taken not for “short-term windfall gains” but for long-term structural reforms. “Earlier the Income Tax department used to shoot in the dark. Now people have voluntarily come forward and deposited money. Now the Income Tax department has specific information,” he said.
Asserting that his government has “zero tolerance for corruption”, Modi said the dishonest will be punished and the taxes collected from them will be routed for welfare programmes. He said the demonetisation will deliver a “multiplier effect” to clean up the economy in the long term.
“Black money is now traced. It will not remain anonymous anymore… The dishonest have only a few days to hide…The government the time, means, and most importantly the will to seek them out,” he said.
Regarding the frequent modifications after demonetisation was announced on November 8, the Prime Minister said, “one must be able to distinguish between ‘niti’ (policy) and ‘ran- niti’ (strategy) and not put them in the same basket.
“The decision of demonetisation, which reflects our ‘niti’, is unequivocally clear, unwavering and categorical. Our ‘ran-niti’, however, needed to be different, aptly summarised by the age-old saying of ‘Tu Daal Daal, Main Paat Paat’ (keeping pace with the adversary). We must take two steps ahead of the enemy.”
He said when problems are identified, “we respond promptly and take necessary steps. Far from indicating poor implementation, this speaks of our agility in responding quickly and keeping up with the evolving situation.”
“I know many will prefer if we issue one guideline and then allow them to walk roughshod over it. Let me assure them that no such thing will happen.” Issuing the “most dire warning” to black markeeters and the corrupt, Modi said, “if the enemy runs, we will chase them. If they change their tactics, we will change ours. When the corrupt find new methods of cheating, we will identify new methods to clamp down on the same.”
On dirt in political system, Modi said the need of the hour is to “comprehensively relook and reform political funding. I have also repeatedly expressed concern about how our current system of multiple elections not only raises political expenditure, thereby hurting the economy, but also results in the nation perpetually remaining in election mode, stalling governance.”
On immediate outcome of the demonetisation decision, the Prime Minister said black money has all been forced out into the open, whomsoever it may belong to – whether it is corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen or professionals.
“Counterfeit notes, which our intelligence agencies has reported to be available in high volumes with our enemies, have been instantly neutralised. Similarly cash held by terrorists, maoists and other extremists has also been neutralised. There has been a crippling impact on dangerous and highly damaging illegal activities, such as human trafficking, and the narcotics trade as well,” Modi said.
On the hunt against the hoarders, Modi said, “when money returns to the bank, it losses its anonymity. Every rupee leaves a trail. This changes the game as the black money that did not have an address till now has been tagged with one.
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“We now know who has it, where and when. Holders of black money may hide behind the bank accounts of others, but unlike cash holdings, they can be traced…. More interestingly, with the existence of such trails, the identification of one culprit invariably leads to the unearthing of even larger sources and schemes of corruption.”
He said the demonetisation will have a multiplier effect of introduction of money, which was till now uselessly hoarded and stocked away as cash, into the active economic system will give the economy further boost.
About digital transactions, Modi said these should not be viewed only as a short-term substitute to help through the period of cash shortage.
“That is not my objective. Digital transactions deliver multiple benefits. They facilitate proper accounting and sizing of the formal economy. They provide greater ease and security in handling of money, especially for small businesses and ordinary people. They also deliver greater tax compliance ensuring the dishonest do not escape payment of their dues. Therefore, I see digital payments as a method of cleaning up the economy in the long-run,” he said.