Union ministers fanned out across the country to highlight the crackdown on black money to mark the first anniversary of demonetisation on Wednesday which the Bharatiya Janata Party celebrated as “Anti Black Money Day” while the Congress-led Opposition observed it as “Black Day” with street protests.
One year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his decision to demonetise high value currency notes, there were emotional speeches and number crunching and some poetry besides protests by the opposition parties. Key BJP ally Shiv Sena also joined the protests in Maharashtra.
Indians had won a “decisive battle” against black money, Modi said, as the Congress led the opposition charge, calling it a tragedy in which millions had suffered. Modi also said he bowed to the people of India for supporting the measures against corruption and black money.
The prime minister had announced that he was demonetising Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes as a measure to fight black money, corruption, fake currency and terror funding.
While opposition leaders such as the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram, Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Yadav and Left leaders argued that it had done none of the above and actually helped convert black money into white, the government fielded a host of ministers to counter the barrage of criticism and defend the move.
Modi posted a series of tweets and some short films on his Twitter handle to showcase the benefits it brought. It had, he said, formalised the economy and ensured better jobs for the poor, while cleansing the financial system.
But the opposition parties were unimpressed. The Congress and the Left parties held demonstrations across the country, while the RJD organised rallies in Bihar, and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
Congress vice president Gandhi used multiple platforms to slam the exercise. He wrote a signed article in the United Kingdom’s Financial Times, took to Twitter and met a cross-section of people in Surat, poll-bound Gujarat’s “diamond city”.
“Modi’s reforms have robbed India of its economic prowess,” he alleged in the Financial Times and said demonetisation had wiped out 2 per cent of the gross domestic product and “ruined” the lives of millions of workers.
He even resorted to some poetry as his party observed the day with processions, rallies and candle-light marches in several parts of the country.
“Ek aansu bhi hukumat ke liye khatra hai, tumne dekha nahin aankhon ka samundar hona (Even a single tear is a danger for the government, you have not seen eyes turning into an ocean),” Gandhi said in a tweet.
His party colleague, former Union finance minister Chidambaram, echoed him.
Launching a scathing attack on the Centre and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley - who said on Tuesday the demonetisation decision was an “ethical drive and a moral step” - he asked whether it was “ethical” to heap misery on millions of people.
No one could deny that lives and jobs were lost due to the note ban, he said.
Chidambaram went on to ask if it was ethical to destroy 15 lakh regular jobs during January-April 2017 and force thousands of micro and small businesses to close down.
RJD chief Lalu Yadav also questioned the rationale behind the note ban, saying the move served the purpose of “converting black money into white with greater ease”.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who described demonetisation as “DeMoDisaster” and turned her Twitter display picture black, agreed with him.
“Demonetisation was not to combat black money. It was only to convert black money into white money for vested interests of the political party in power (sic),” she alleged.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazagham joined in, with Working President M K Stalin saying in Madurai that November 8 was a day that brought despair to 125 crore Indians.
“We got freedom in midnight (in 1947). But, we have lost our freedom in the midnight,” he said in an apparent reference to Modi’s announcement on the evening of November 8 last year.
The Left parties, which took to the streets, said for the first time in India’s history, a government was “celebrating” death and suffering.
Shiv Sena performed a ‘shradh’ or post-death rites at Ramkund, a sacred bathing ghat on the Godavari, in Nashik, in front of enlarged pictures of the scrapped notes.
The government kept its arsenal ready too.
Among the ministers who came out in defence of the decision were Nirmala Sitharaman, Suresh Prabhu, Nitin Gadkari, Prakash Javadekar and Manohar Parrikar.
BJP president Amit Shah, who was in Junagadh, Gujarat, launched a signature campaign to mark the “anti-black money day” and said he supported the prime minister’s commitment for a “new India, free from corruption and black money”.
Union minister Gadkari, who holds multiple portfolios, took up the fight in Mumbai.
The government’s demonetisation decision had led to 58 per cent growth in digital transactions and an increase in the number of tax payers, he said.
His colleague, Defence Minister Sitharaman, was in Chennai and hit out at former prime minister Manmohan Singh over his criticism of demonetisation.
Prabhu, Union commerce and industry minister, was in Jaipur, HRD Minister Javadekar was in Bangalore and Goa Chief Minister Parrikar stepped into the battle from his perch, saying demonetisation had struck a blow to anti-India forces and empowered the poorest of the poor.