Ahmedabad: The Congress got out its top gun on the economy on Tuesday, fielding former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in Gujarat to amplify party vice president Rahul Gandhi’s attack on the Narendra Modi government’s mega reforms, the notes ban and new national sales tax GST. Dr Singh said the “twin blow is a complete disaster for our economy, it has broken the back of our small businesses” and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to lower the democratic discourse by calling his critics anti-national or anti-development.
The former Prime Minister and noted economist said he was “shocked” when PM Modi announced the ban on high-value notes exactly a year ago tomorrow, describing it as “disastrous policy” thrust on the people and “a reckless step”, with none of its objectives achieved. “I repeat what I said in parliament, this was organised loot and legalised plunder,” Dr Singh said, whose party will hold “black day” protests tomorrow.
He was addressing a meeting of traders and businessmen organised by the Congress in PM Modi’s home state, which votes next month for a new government.
Dr Singh said suggestions to recall large currency notes to curb tax evasion and black money had been suggested to earlier governments too, but “we never took such a drastic measure because the… cause of demonetisation always exceeded the benefits very substantially,” adding, “Nowhere in the world has any democracy undertaken such a coercive move (of) withdrawing 86 per cent of legal tender in one single (stroke). Neither would anyone advise bringing out even more high currency notes of Rs. 2,000 after elimination of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes.”
PM Modi said over the weekend in election speeches in Himachal Pradesh that had former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Congress opted for a notes ban when needed, he would not have had to do so. The Prime Minister has in speeches emphasised that long-term gains are expected of demonetisation and GST, and has said those who oppose them are weakening the cause of fighting corruption.
“This attitude of suspecting everyone to be a thief or anti-national, low level rhetoric is damaging to democratic discourse,” Dr Singh said in his speech at Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Smarak Auditorium.
He also questioned PM Modi’s pet project the bullet train, calling it “an exercise in vanity” and asking if the Prime Minister had considered the alternative of “a high speed train by upgrading broad gauge railway?” The former PM said, “By questioning bullet trains does one become anti-development? Does questioning GST and demonetisation make one a tax evader?”
The Congress is seeking to wrest Gujarat from the BJP, which has ruled the state for the last 22 years straight. Rahul Gandhi has in his Gujarat campaign made aggressive attacks on PM Modi and his government over both the notes ban and GST, which he has labelled the “Gabbar Singh Tax” after the famous villain from Bollywood superhit Sholay.
Gandhi says the “two quick shots to the chest” have brought Gujarat’s small traders to their knees and they must punish the BJP by voting against it in next month’s assembly elections. GST, he said, has its merits, but has accused the government of a hurried and unwieldy roll-out and has promised to revamp it completely if his party is voted to power at the Centre in 2019.
“A well-designed GST would have been revolutionary… I appreciated that when despite opposing GST as a Chief Minister he (PM Modi) changed his mind as Prime Minister and decided to go for it… But the loopholes and an ill designed GST have caused hardships,” Dr Singh said today.
Finance Minsiter Arun Jaitley at a press conference today alluded to Dr Singh’s attack on the government’s policies and said it is surprising that “an economic exercise behind which there is ethical and moral rationale is being described as loot.”
“I feel that even on the matter of ethics our vision and Congress’ vision are different. Their primary object is to serve the family and our primary object is to serve the nation. Even on these, preliminarily we may not be able to agree,” the Finance Minister said.