With the Opposition stepping up the heat against the demonetisation drive, leading to disruptions in both Houses of Parliament, the Government prepared to weather the storm at least till the beginning of next week in the hope that the cash crunch cased by the withdrawal of old R500 and R1,000 notes would have somewhat eased by then.
Led by the Congress, the Opposition parties refused to allow Rajya Sabha to function unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi responds to their questions on the currency move that “has caused hardship to the common man”. The Lok Sabha also witnessed noisy disruptions, with the Opposition demanding a discussion under a rule that mandates voting.
The Government, however, refused to make any commitment on whether the Prime Minister would speak on Friday; he stayed away from Rajya Sabha on Thursday even though it was the Prime Minister’s question day in the upper house.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the government would take a call on who would eventually respond to issues raised by the Opposition. Sources said the government may agree early next week to the Opposition’s demand in Rajya Sabha for Prime Minister Modi’s intervention in the debate and in Lok Sabha for an adjournment motion.
Elaborating on the government strategy, sources said that its expectation was that the long queues outside banks and ATMs, which has started making BJP leaders nervous about the political cost of the demonetisation scheme, will ease over the weekend.
“With more currency being released, there should be some normalcy by Monday. Besides, the government has announced fresh measures like allowing withdrawal up to Rs 2.5 lakh for weddings and up to Rs 50,000 for farmers. There should provide relief to the common man,” a Union Minister told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
Sources in the Opposition said that the Congress is planning to put more pressure on the government, indicating that the party may work in tandem with other Opposition parties to keep shifting the goalposts and “expose the failure of the government”.
In Rajya Sabha Thursday, the Opposition forced four adjournments in the first half, with TMC MP Derek O’Brien asking where the Prime Minister was when the House was discussing “hardships and inconvenience” caused by the decision to withdraw the old notes. “The person who made the (demonetisation) announcement at 8 pm on November 8, where is he?” he said.
O’Brien’s question followed demands from AIADMK members for the setting up of a Cauvery Management Board top resolve the water dispute.
The Treasury benches rose to counter the Opposition, with the mention of the Prime Minister bringing Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, Social Justice Minister Thavar Chand Gehlot and Minister of State for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman to their feet.
But their voices were drowned out when by Opposition members who reached the well of the House, with Congress MPs shouting “Pradhan Mantri, jawab do (Prime Minister, give a reply).”
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien stepped in to say that “if the Finance Minister is available, that is enough” and expunged certain references to the Prime Minister made by some Opposition members.
Naidu and Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad also engaged in a heated exchange over the Congress leader’s remark that more people had died due to demonetisation than the terrorist attack on the Army camp at Uri, which killed 18 soldiers.