interview | Lok Sabha Election 2019

Modi rattled by Congress manifesto, claims P. Chidambaram

Former Union Finance Minister and architect of the Congress party’s manifesto P. Chidambaram. File

Former Union Finance Minister and architect of the Congress party’s manifesto P. Chidambaram. File   | Photo Credit: B. Joth Ramalingam

“The Prime Minister believes in a presidential system... the Cabinet is completely non-functional and ornamental”.

Former Union Finance Minister and architect of the Congress party’s manifesto P. Chidambaram says Prime Minister Narendra Modi is rattled by the promises made in the document. Speaking at his home in Managiri near Karaikudi he also said Mr. Modi would attempt to change India’s parliamentary system into a presidential system.

What is your takeaway from your tour of the country ahead of drafting the Congress manifesto?

See, number one [issue] is jobs. People think the government has comprehensively failed to create jobs. They also think that GST and demonetisation destroyed jobs. It created a situation where new jobs have not been created. Number two issue in non-urban areas is farmers’ problem. It is obvious that in the last 11 years after the last loan waiver, the farmers’ indebtedness has mounted. According to a NABARD report, the average indebtedness is ₹1.04 lakh a farmer. They want some relief against indebtedness. They think the farmers’ issue has been neglected by the Modi government and the government is actually favouring only corporates.

The third issue is security. Whoever we met — women, Dalits, minorities, scheduled tribes, writers, artists, self-employed people: auto-rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers — all of them have a sense of insecurity. Young people, young girls, particularly feel that these self-appointed moral brigades can encroach upon their security, privacy and their personal rights. Apart from this there are many issues, but these seem to be the top issues.

What is the basis of your apprehension that the BJP if returned to power would re-write the Constitution?

The RSS does not believe in a federal Constitution or a federal system. Its founding leaders advocated a unitary system. Besides, the RSS has serious issues with several provisions of the Constitution. It is not only Article 370 relating to Jammu and Kashmir; they have serious reservations about the rights of linguistic minorities and religious minorities. They have serious reservations about reservation itself. They have stoutly opposed to reservation in (job) promotion.

They don’t believe that all languages should be treated as equal. In fact, left to the RSS-BJP, they will have only Hindi as India’s language. They don’t accept the civil codes of different religious groups. All these point to a direction where, if the BJP gets a majority, it will make an attempt to amend the Constitution.

Mr. Modi, I think, personally believes in a presidential system. He is running his government as if he is a president. The Cabinet is completely non-functional and ornamental. He works directly with bureaucrats, by-passing ministers. I think Mr. Modi will attempt to change the system — from a parliamentary system to a presidential system.

You said there would be no elections once in five years if the BJP retains power…

One of the BJP’s prominent leaders said this — that 2019 election will be a tsunami; Mr Modi will be voted back to power and after that there will be no elections.

How do you see Mr Modi’s ‘Chowkidar’ plank?

Chowkidar of what? Who appoints chowkidars in their homes? Only the rich appoint chowkidars. Do the poor and the middle class appoint chowkidars for their homes?. So when he says he is chowkidar, he is obviously referring to the fact that he is the guardian or watchman of interest of the rich people and the corporate class. If he was a chowkidar, how did he allow Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, the Sandesaras to flee? All the scamsters fled India under the Modi regime.

Mr. Modi has called the Congress election manifesto a bundle of lies and that it has come with an expiry date of May 23.

Why does not Mr. Modi speak about the promises that he made before 2014? Which promise he kept? The Congress manifesto has taken the country by storm. It is the principal talking point across towns and villages. It is obvious that Mr. Modi is rattled by the Congress manifesto and the great thought and effort that had gone into writing the manifesto.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley quoted economist Abhijit Banerjee to say that the funding for NYAY would be possible only if taxes are raised...

We respect Mr. Banerjee’s view. But we are also confident we can raise the sources without imposing an increased tax burden on the middle class and the average tax payer.

Mr Jaitley also said only the merit subsidies will stay...

Is Mr. Jaitley admitting that there are non-merit subsidies? Merit subsidy has a special meaning in economics. It means subsidies that are intended to achieve specific socio-economic objectives. We have made it clear that we will not tamper with any subsidy that intended to achieve specific socio-economic objectives.

What is the significance of Mr Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad?

It is a powerful signal to the people of the southern States that unlike the BJP, which is a north Indian party confined to the Hindi heartland, the Congress is an all India party and treats the southern States with great respect.

The Lokniti survey (published in The Hindu) has said the BJP’s 10% quota to the economically weaker sections, PM-KISAN and Balakot air strike have given Mr Modi a boost...

See, I don’t attach any importance to surveys. The surveys were wrong in the last three State elections held in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

How do you assess the impact of demonetisation and the GST regime?

Demonetisation and the flawed GST had completely derailed India’s economy. Between the two, they destroyed jobs, forced the closure of thousands of micro and small units, hit very badly the medium industries and pushed into debt, a number of daily workers and self-employed people, who had no option but to borrow in the immediate two months after demonetisation. They are still struggling to repay the debt.

There was a controversy over fielding your son Karti in Sivaganga. How was it resolved?

There was no controversy. The name was announced after 24 hours (after the first list). Why? Because, Wayanad, Sivaganga and one constituency in Karnataka were under consideration for Mr. Rahul Gandhi to contest. The controversy is only a manufactured controversy.

Finally, what about the cases registered against you, your son and your wife?

I don’t speak to the media on the cases. A case can only be tried in a court of law. The fact is that there are two cases both are at the stage of FIR. There is no case in which a charge sheet has been served upon either me or my son. I decline to say anything more.

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 11:24:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/narendra-modi-is-rattled-by-the-congress-manifesto-p-chidambaram/article26749695.ece

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