The leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party, fearing an eruption of dissident voices on the government’s demonetisation decision, quietly cancelled in the last three days two meetings of party MPs, many of whom are said to be against the ban of banknotes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.
While the first meeting was to be held on Wednesday, the day the winter session of Parliament began, the second was scheduled for Friday, before the House adjourned for the weekend.
Though the leadership gave no reason for the cancellations, BJP insiders said the decision was driven by fear that an official gathering of party MPs might result in the airing of dissident views, thereby embarrassing the government.
According to a BJP member of the Lok Sabha, who did not wish to be identified, Friday’s meeting was fixed a few days ago and was meant to be a training session for MPs on the aspects of the demonetisation decision. “We were informed that there would be a power-point presentation, and we would be officially briefed about the rationale and other details related to the government’s decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes,” he said.
However, hours before the scheduled time, the MPs were told the meeting had been called off. “I am told that this meeting will now be held sometime next week,” said another BJP MP.
Similarly, party MPs were summoned by BJP President Amit Shah on November 16, but hours later, the meeting was cancelled with no explanation given. “That day, just before the two Houses assembled, we were informed that Amit Shah would meet us at 7 pm,” said a party MP. “We were told it would be a meeting to ensure proper floor coordination and to devise our strategy to deal with the Opposition’s attack. But around four o’clock, we were informed that the meeting was cancelled. No reason was cited.”
According to the BJP insiders, Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to avoid an official gathering of party MPs, sensing that some of them were in a rebellious mood – as reflected in Porbandar MP Vithal Radadia’s public criticism of the demonetisation move. On November 14, the leader from Gujarat had said the cash withdrawal would adversely affect the farm sector and unless corrective measures were taken immediately, all agriculture marketing produce committees would have to stay shut for at least two months.
The apprehension of the BJP brass is not unfounded. The opening days of the winter session have not seen much of an effort by party MPs to defend the government or to disrupt the spirited attack mounted by Opposition leaders. This apathy was especially glaring in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday when Congress leader Anand Sharma, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, the Samajwadi Party’s Ramgopal Yadav and Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) sought to put the government in the dock over the cash crisis.
It was partly to avoid such an embarrassment that on Friday, the ruling party issued a whip asking all its members to be present in the House, even though there was no possibility of a vote, as the Lok Sabha Speaker had not accepted the Opposition’s demand of a debate under a rule that entails voting.
“The party leadership expects the situation to improve in the next two to three days,” said a BJP MP from Gujarat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “In any case, the parliamentary party (of the BJP) meets on Tuesdays when Parliament is in session. By next Tuesday, when the parliamentary party will have met for the first time this session, things will perhaps be much better and the MPs will be less restive.”