Mamata Banerjee. Picture by Partha Protim Koner
Jan. 9: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today asked business chambers why they were silent on demonetisation and whether they were scared of the CBI, flagging an unstated fear of retribution and bringing to the fore a dilemma vexing industry.
"Why are chambers of commerce silent? Are you scared of the CBI? I am telling you not to be scared and come forward against demonetisation. Two months have gone but 40 per cent banks still remain cashless. How will people survive?" the chief minister asked industry representatives during the inauguration of Maati Utsav, a farming and handicrafts fair, in Burdwan.
Several representatives of local and Calcutta-based chambers were present when Mamata spoke.
The chief minister has touched on a sensitive topic at a time critics of the demonetisation have been branded protectors of black money by leading lights at the Centre.
Business captains have largely been tight-lipped in public on demonetisation, not just in Bengal but in most parts of the country.
A young entrepreneur told this newspaper: "I was at an internal meeting of a national chamber in Delhi. On record, everybody was praising the bold move (the demonetisation). But during the lunch-break, I made a stray remark that it was hurting my business. And then, it was as if the floodgates had been opened. Those who were praising the move minutes ago turned into virulent critics."
If most industrialists elsewhere are desisting from criticising the demonetisation, another factor is also at play in Bengal: not many investors are publicly praising it either.
"If we call it bad, Modiji may take offence. If we say it is good, Didi will be angry. So we have decided just not to talk about it at all," said an industrialist in Calcutta.
" Jab genhu pista hai, tab ghun bhi pis jata hai," was how another industrialist put it, which loosely translates as "along with the guilty, the innocent are also crushed".
CII, the apex chamber, has so far not issued any formal statement on the note recall but its president Naushad Forbes was quoted as saying the growth rate would fall significantly for the second half of the fiscal. Forbes was in Calcutta last week at a CII event, where he did not comment on the issue.
Ficci's immediate past president Harshvardhan Neotia had issued a statement on November 15 saying demonetisation would yield several medium- and long-term benefits but sought lower interest rates to stabilise demand.