Standing up to doomsday predictions about the fate of the economy, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Monday got his say in the Lok Sabha despite efforts by some members of his own party to disrupt the unveiling of the Interim Budget.
Though the Andhra Pradesh members continued with their siege of the Well through the duration of his presentation of the Interim Budget and were briefly joined by members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Trinamool Congress, Mr. Chidambaram’s refusal to proceed with his speech until there was some semblance of order in the House held sway.
After reading a couple of paragraphs from his speech, the Minister stopped and could be seen refusing even United Progress Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s suggestion that he proceed. As he held his ground, the Congress MPs lowered their decibel of protest; allowing the Minister a fairly uninterrupted run thereafter to proceed with what has been billed by political detractors as a political statement with elections in mind.
He made no bones about it; stating that “the UPA Governments’ record on growth is unparalleled,’’ indicating that history would judge the past 10 years better and underscoring that India was among the handful of emerging economies that managed to keep its head above water with a savings and investment rate of over 30 per cent in 2012-13 despite the slowdown.
This was not all. Without naming BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the Minister responded to his “hard work matters, not Harvard’’ jibe made at Chennai last week. Pointedly looking at the BJP benches, he said after flagging some achievements: “All this is the result of hard work. I may add, among other mentors, my mother and Harvard taught me the value of hard work.’’
He also sought to address questions about the democratic way of governance. Quoting Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and academic Jean Dreze, he said: “India was the first non-Western country – and also the first poor country in the world – to commit itself to a resolutely democratic way of governance… Our way of governance has not come in the way of lifting 140 million people out of poverty in the last 10 years,’’ he said asserting that “neither populism nor majoritarianism nor individualism is an alternative way of governance.”
As always, Mr. Chidambaram signed off with a couplet from Thiruvalluvar but not before flagging Jawaharlal Nehru’s idea of India as articulated by political scientist Sunil Khilnani that “sought to coordinate within the form of a modern state a variety of values: democracy, religious tolerance, economic development and cultural pluralism.’’