Nitish Kumar Warns PM Modi That Notes Ban Support Has Expiry Date
PM Modi :
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is clear that he is not about to yank the support extended unusually to him by PM Modi over his demonetization drive. Earlier this week, the Chief Minister said he would respect the PM’s request for “just 50 days” to drive out black money from the economy with a sudden ban on 500- and 1,000-rupee notes, an initiative which has been praised for its intent but faulted for execution, given that a month later, the country remains in an acute cash crisis.
“I am not the sort of person who commits support in haste and then withdraws it,” said Mr Kumar on Tuesday, “let us wait till December 30 and then we will analyze it.”
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A section of his party, the Janata Dal United or JDU, has reportedly been irked by the Chief Minister’s backing of demonetization at a time when 15 opposition parties have combined in parliament to accuse the government of risking the economy with its sudden move and plunging the poor and rural India into a cash crunch.
Has it been worth the goal for which it was undertaken? So we are waiting till 30th December because the Prime Minister in his speech had said that ‘wait for 50 days and normalcy will be restored’. That has been our position,” said Pawan Verma of the JDU in Delhi today to remind the government that it’s on the clock.
The 50-day window was sought by the PM in an emotional speech days after he announced the abrupt cancellation of high-denomination notes to flush out black money and penalize its holders. The outlawed notes must be turned into banks by December 30. But already, 80% of the notes have been submitted, suggesting that virtually all the money will return to banks, partially aided by money-laundering.
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The notes that were cancelled formed 86% of the currency in circulation. Their withdrawal created a massive vacuum of which only a small chunk has been filled with the new bills being printed.
Mr Kumar’s political past includes a notable hostility with PM Modi. So his support- his shout-outs to the PM included depicting him as “bravely riding a tiger” – is based, according to experts, at least in part on the belief that despite the inconveniences, people largely accept the PM’s contention that their “short-term pain will be soon replaced with long-term gain.”
More problematically for him than the below-surface rumbling within his own party is the criticism of the notes ban made with typical tetchiness by his ally, Lalu Yadav. The differences between them over demonetization add to the stretch-marks of a partnership that regularly offers samples of its improbability. A marker of how serious the divide seemed to be getting came from the Chief Minister delivering a closed-door address not to his own but Lalu’s legislators, reassuring that his support for the currency reboot is not a giveaway of an inching back to the BJP, with whom he shared a nearly two-decade-long alliance.
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As Mr Kumar’s party makes it clear that its support for the PM has an expiration date, Lalu has summoned a meeting of his party on Saturday, where he is expected to finalize a series of street protests against Mr Modi over demonetization.
Meanwhile, the BJP, in a somewhat transparent attempt to keep Mr Kumar’s support, suggested that if he turns on the notes ban, “it will be seen as a bending to Lalu,” according to the party’s Mangal Pandey.