The Supreme Court has taken out a lot of the wind from the Opposition’s sails by saying there is no prima facie case for an SIT probe into the alleged payments made by the Sahara and AV Birla groups to Narendra Modi when he was chief minister of Gujarat, but it has to be really odd that the Opposition is not willing to debate in Parliament unless the prime minister is present. Apart from the psychological satisfaction of seeing Modi captive for the duration of the debate on demonetisation, it is difficult to see what the Opposition will gain. Indeed, if the Opposition is confident it will be able to corner the government, it would do well to press on—after all, whether the prime minister is in Parliament or not, he and/or his party will have to reply to the substantive allegations made against it. And while finance minister Arun Jaitley was right in raising the issue of the 2G/CWG/Coalgate scams when Dr Manmohan Singh was the prime minister, there can be little doubt the Opposition got a big boost when Singh said the costs of demonetisation could be as high as 2% of GDP—after all, his credentials as an economist have not been tarnished in the least. Given this start, you would think the Opposition would build upon it, instead of just repeating the issue of the hardship being faced by the common man, no matter how true that might be.
If the Opposition is sure of its facts, it should give evidence of how the BJP knew about demonetisation before the prime minister made it public and how party funds were deposited in bank accounts, or how land was purchased to get rid of currency notes. Like the Supreme Court, the Opposition could put the government on the rails by asking it why, two years after it came to power, there was still no Lokpal. It could talk of how, while there weren’t enough jobs being created anyway, the demonetisation had already resulted in lakhs of jobs being lost. Based on the news of the Rs 15,000 crore deposited in Jan-Dhan accounts—and Rs 4,500 crore of this already withdrawn—as well as the money being laundered through various schemes such as those for tribals in the north east, it could rip into the government for leaving big holes for launders to exploit; even the likely reduction in tax penalties from 200% to a likely 60-70% could be pitched as a government strategy to rescue black-marketers. It could have forced the government to explain how it planned to curb fresh generation of black money through more serious reform … The list of areas where the Opposition could have tried to pin down the government is a long one, but in order to do so, it would require solid facts—such as on the BJP knowing about the demonetisation in advance—and logical reasoning. The fact that the Opposition is choosing to disrupt Parliament just strengthens the view that it is not interested in a debate, but just wants to grandstand.