Thousands protest across India against currency policy

NEW DELHI – Thousands of people demonstrated across India on Monday to protest the government’s sudden decision to withdraw large-denomination currency from circulation, a move that has caused enormous hardship to millions of people in the country’s predominantly cash-based economy.

But the response to the “day of rage” called by opposition parties was patchy, with the protests only affecting daily life in opposition-ruled states.

Nearly three weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that 500- and 1,000-rupee notes, worth about $7.50 and $15, would become worthless overnight and would be replaced by new currency in a bid to stamp out corruption and tax evasion.

The surprise decision pulled 86 per cent of the country’s money supply out of circulation, leading to serpentine lines at banks, which often ran short of currency, showing that the government was ill-prepared for the move.

Opposition parties have criticized the policy, saying the government mismanaged the currency change and that Modi should address Parliament to explain his decision.

In New Delhi, opposition parties held separate protests, indicating that they could not overcome their political differences to hold a single rally.

In the communist party-ruled state of Kerala in southern India, buses and cars stopped plying the roads and businesses and shops closed.

The main opposition Congress party said it was holding protests marking a “day of rage” among the people, but would not support calls for a general strike because it would cause economic disruption.

Last week, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament the demonetization move was a “monumental management failure” and “a case of organized loot and legalized plunder of the common people.”

On Monday, Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the decision had caused “unprecedented financial turmoil in the country and brought hardship and unimaginable misery on millions of poor people.”

However, several regional leaders expressed their support for Modi, saying his decision would help cut corruption and end the practice of the rich to hold stockpiles of undeclared cash, known in India as “black money.”