Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s opening salvo on Friday, ahead of the Narendra Modi government’s first anniversary, focussed on the ruling dispensation providing the country with a corruption-free, transparent governance.
This, he said, is in sharp contrast to the crony capitalism and spate of financial scams that marked the tenure of the previous United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.
With much of the government’s achievements yet to be felt, Mr. Jaitley appeared keener on concentrating on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s 12 months of transparent, corruption-free governance, marked by focused, swift decision-making, stressing that it was everything the Congress-led UPA regime had not been.
Mr. Jaitley’s press conference was as much about the ruling dispensation’s achievements as it was an indictment of the Congress-led UPA’s 10 years in power.
If the present government had its eyes fixed on “growth and development”, its predecessor had “positioned” itself as “anti-growth and anti-development”, obstructing reforms such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and amendments to the 2013 land acquisition law that, Mr. Jaitley emphasised, had only blocked the construction of rural roads, rural housing and rural infrastructure.
At times, it appeared as though Mr. Jaitley’s emphasis at his press conference was on showing the Congress in poor light.
If the government’s chief spin doctor chose not to acknowledge that much of what he claimed as the ruling party’s achievements were in continuum with its predecessor’s policies, that was understandable. But his returning repeatedly to the Congress’s “shortcomings” betrayed the same nervousness that was evident in the BJP’s behaviour in the recent Budget Session of Parliament — especially after the return of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
A positive spin Mr. Jaitley succeeded in giving his government’s failure to pass the laws relating to the GST and land acquisition a positive spin: instead of labouring on the Opposition’s “obstructionism” (something the BJP was equally, if not more, guilty of when in Opposition), he emphasised that the Modi government had overcome all obstacles to clear all but two of the Bills it had wanted to pass.
This, he said, had been done by the government’s exemplary use of “cooperative federalism” that had seen regional parties appreciating the plus points of supporting the BJP-led NDA government in passing the coal and mines Bills.
He also adroitly distanced himself from some negative publicity he had attracted when he spoke pejoratively of “an indirectly elected House questioning the wisdom of a directly elected House, (not) once in a while but... Bill after Bill, session after session.” Asked whether he felt a constitutional change was required to change this, he ruled it out firmly.
Delhi impasse A few days ago, Mr. Jaitley seemed to be on Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung’s side against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal when he described the AAP’s victory in Delhi as “a very costly experiment because governance is not their political agenda”; on Friday, he steered clear of the controversy, saying the problem in Delhi was a constitutional, not a political, issue.
While he lauded the Prime Minister for putting India on the world map, travelling to 18 countries in 12 months, he mocked Mr. Gandhi for his 55-day foreign holiday.