They did not visualise the horrors, which lay in store for the people of this country, says Ghulam Nabi Azad.
As the logjam in Parliament enters the fourth week, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, speaks with Ashhar Khan on the reasons of the current logjam.
It has been three weeks and the government has agreed for discussion but Parliament has not witnessed any constructive business. What is the reason?
It was the Prime Minister who in his address to the nation announced demonetisation so he should be present in Parliament and listen to the discussion and points which the members are raising. So there is nothing wrong in our demand that the PM should come to the House and the discussion will start. The problem is that this decision was taken without application of mind. It was merely an announcement and that too without thinking and visualising what type of disaster it will lead to. Now the government is finding it tough to answer.
The President has also said that Parliament is no place for dharna and disruption, instead there should be debate and discussion. What do you think of his statement?
I totally agree with the President and I squarely hold the ruling party responsible for this disruption. It is the responsibility of the ruling party to run the House and not that of the Opposition, and I must say that the ruling party is the one which is instrumental in disturbing the House. This government still has not realised whether they are in the Opposition or in the government. Once you are in the Opposition, you have a particular role to play — role of an Opposition but after having come to power, they are still playing the same role which they used to play as the Opposition party. So, they must realise that they are no more the Opposition and that they are now the ruling party and behave like one.
Has the Opposition got any offers from the government for coming to a reasonable middle ground?
The government is not interested. It provokes the Opposition. You have seen how many times the Union minister gives statement inside and outside the House. In our time, have you ever seen any Union minister giving statements against the Opposition? There are ministers who give statements five times against Opposition parties in the premise of Parliament. Before going inside, they provoke the members, then come and give the byte outside, then go for lunch. After coming back from lunch, give another byte against the Opposition, then go inside and again brief the media inside against the Opposition, then come out and finally for the fifth time, they give another press conference against the Opposition. This is not the way to run the government.
Don’t you think that due to this disruption important issues are not being raised in Parliament and the voice of the common man is not being heard?
We are all representatives of people. But the government does not want to listen to us. It has been more than a month since demonetisation more than 100 people have died due to faulty planning. Who is responsible for this? First, they said they are attacking black money then counterfeit currency and now they are saying we should go cashless.
I asked finance minister Arun Jaitley in the House that the revenue secretary has said that all money will be deposited. If all the money will be deposited in banks then what was the point of this entire exercise?
The government says that the Opposition is running away from discussion and they have challenged you to come back and discuss. What is your response?
When did we run away from discussion? We are ready. In fact we started it. But where is the Prime Minister who announced this decision? The fact is that the government has no idea what they have gotten into. They have issued more than 120 notifications since this decision was announced. They were unprepared, they did not visualise the horrors, which lay in store for the people of this country. People are daily standing in lines to withdraw their own money. Can you imagine the number of man-hours being lost?
The government is talking about cashless economy. Do you have a problem with this?
I only want to ask: is the infrastructure ready? Do we have enough bandwidth to carry on? First, we need to have more ATMs and bank branches so that the rush, which is prevailing at banks and ATMs, can reduce. Second, all decisions should involve huge scale planning and trying to ascertain difficulties which can crop up. The government failed miserably on this front. Look at the US, Japan and the UK, these are advanced countries, have they gone completely cashless? I have travelled to so many countries, nobody says that you have to only pay by card then you will get something.
What problems do you have with demonetisation?
You can see for yourself the effects of this on streets, villages and towns. Look at farmers and daily wage earners, what has happened to them. Lakhs of jobs have ceased to exist in this month and there have been large-scale retrenchments. People don’t have cash so they have stopped hiring labourers and daily wagers, what is the government doing about them? Look at the amount of money which has been wasted on this exercise. People have been standing in lines for days, marriages have been affected and private hospitals are not taking old currency. There is complete chaos.
The government says that there is short-term pain because of the secrecy it had to maintain. Your views.
Some people in the BJP were informed of this decision well in advance. The BJP bought land just before this was announced in so many places in Bihar and Odisha. It is also surprising that BJP people are being caught with huge amounts of new currency. Black money hoarders are getting their money replaced at a commission and there is no money in banks and ATMs for the common man.
How do you see the session going now?
We have a very gentle Opposition in this country and very constructive Opposition party unlike the destructive ruling party. So we are always ready for discussion, but as I said, earlier the lead has to be taken by the ruling party. I feel that they are not interested in running the House that is why they keep provoking Opposition members.