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6 Jan 2017

President tempers position on note ban

Sanjay K. Jha, TT, New Delhi, Jan. 5: President Pranab Mukherjee today seemed to be cautiously amending his position on the note recall, acknowledging a possible economic slowdown and miseries for the poor as some of its "temporary" outcomes.
"Demonetisation, while immobilising black money and fighting corruption, may lead to a temporary slowdown of the economy. We all will have to be extra careful to alleviate the suffering of the poor, which might become unavoidable for the expected progress in the long term," Mukherjee said in an address to governors and lieutenant governors.
"While I appreciate the thrust on transition from entitlement approach to an entrepreneurial one for poverty alleviation, I am not too sure that the poor can wait that long. They need to get succour here and now, so that they can also participate actively in the national march towards a future devoid of hunger, unemployment and exploitation. The recent package announced by the Prime Minister will provide some relief."
Although the President's outlook on the demonetisation remained positive, his latest comments mark a subtle shift from the position he had taken on the night the note withdrawal was announced.
"The bold step of the Government of India will help unearth unaccounted money and counterfeit currency. I call upon the people not to panic and follow government guidelines for exchange of currency of Rs 500/1000 for new legal tender," he had tweeted on November 8.
Later, as a combined Opposition deadlocked Parliament over the note recall, the President had expressed disapproval in his Defence Estates Day lecture on December 8.
"Disruption means you are gagging majority. Majority never participates in this disruption. Only minority comes to the well, shouts slogans, stops the proceedings and creates a situation in which the Chair has no option but to adjourn the House," he had said.
Mukherjee's comments were largely seen by the Opposition, including the Congress, as a snub to their virulent criticism of the demonetisation.
The Opposition has not just been highlighting the adverse effects of the note recall, it has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of constantly shifting the goalposts by introducing new objectives for the measure every other day.
Today, the President too appeared to be adding a new objective with his reference to a "transition from entitlement approach to an entrepreneurial one for poverty alleviation".
Modi had initially held up the demonetisation as a blow against black money, counterfeit money and terror funding, and later positioned it as a way of ushering in a cashless society. The President's comments seemed to link the measure to a shift in policy-making.
Mukherjee had been an integral part of the then Congress leadership that crafted rights-based welfare schemes like the rural job guarantee scheme and the Food Security Act. Today, he did not clarify whether such schemes, often derided as "populist", could be a legitimate tool for poverty alleviation in the new "entrepreneurial" approach brought in through the shock of demonetisation.
"The recent package announced by the Prime Minister" that the President praised includes sops through the extension of welfare schemes announced by previous governments.
The President referred to populism in a different context, saying: "As we have all experienced, elections are usually marked by competitive populism, electoral rhetoric and vote bank politics. Noisy debates can deepen the fault-lines in society. You, as governors and lieutenant governors, command respect and attention of the people of your state. Through your interaction and wise counsel, you can play an important role in easing the tensions in society."
He added: "Goodwill must prevail between different communities. At times, harmony may be put to test by vested interests. Communal tensions may rear their ugly head. Rule of law must form the sole basis of dealing with any such challenging situation. In a pluralistic democracy like ours, tolerance, respect for contrary views and patience are a must. These values have to be preserved."
The President pointed out that India's strength lay in diversity.
"The multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special. There will always be divergent strands in public discourse. We may argue. We may disagree. But we cannot deny the prevalence of multiplicity of opinion," he said.
"You can, through your calm influence, inculcate amongst the citizens of your state this fundamental ethos of our civilisation."

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