Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram today said had he been the Finance Minister, he would have resigned from the post if the Prime Minister insisted on demonetisation. "Had the Prime Minister told me 'I have decided to declare as illegal tenders Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes', my advice to him would have been not to do it. Don't take the decision. "I would have given him facts and figures. But, had he still said 'Sorry, this is my decision and I will do it', let me tell you quite candidly, I would have resigned," said the former Union finance minister.
He was replying to a question at the Delhi Literature Festival on what would he have done had he been in Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's place. Attacking the government over demonetisation, Chidambaram claimed that the move will not meet the objectives of curbing corruption, counterfeit currencies and black marketeering as spelt out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, he added that the "only short-term benefits" of it would result in people shifting towards digital transactions in the urban areas.
Criticising the Centre, Chidambaram claimed that sufficient information on the ramifications of demonetisation was not provided to the Prime Minister and added that even the Chief Economic Advisor was not aware of the move. He said when he held the office of the Finance Minister, it came to his knowledge that one of his predecessors had constituted a committee on demonetisation, but did not name the predecessor or specify the period.
Chidambaram has presented nine Union budgets. "The report of the CBDT was against demonetisation. No one considered demonetisation," he said, adding that similar steps were taken in 1946 and again, in 1978 during Morarji Desai's regime. Chidambaram said while the demonetisation decision was taken in utmost secrecy, it would be wrong to assume that no one in the opposition could have been taken into confidence. "If you can't consult the opposition, the government should have consulted its own former finance minister Yashwant Sinha. It should have asked former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
A decision of this magnitude ought to be taken at least (in consultation) with Sinha and Singh," he said. The Congress leader said although the Prime Minister has asked for 50 days for the situation to ease out, "putting the poor under this for 50 days is torture".
"If you take away the livelihood of the poor for 50 days...there is a dimension to every economic decision the government takes as well as ethical and political dimensions. "Some decisions may be inherently good, but if they are ethically or morally sad, then the governments oblige by not taking such decisions. "If you have taken a decision, which has virtually driven a large number of people to borrow money, then it's completely unethical, immoral," Chidambaram said.
The Congress leader said merely opposing the government's demonetisation decision did not make him or his party "supporters of black money". He said somebody should have told the Prime Minister that you cannot withdraw 86 per cent of the currency notes (from circulation) overnight and not infuse the number of notes in a few days.
"I don't think the Prime Minister was told that the two high denomination notes accounted for 86 per cent of the cash in circulation. I don't think he was told that you would be withdrawing 2,300 crore notes, but the capacity of the printing press is 300 crore per month and it will take seven months to match up to that figure," said the former Union finance minister.