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PM silent on economy, government clueless: Chidambaram

Congress MPs led by P. Chidambaram protest against onion price hike at the Parliament House in New Delhi on December 5, 2019.

Congress MPs led by P. Chidambaram protest against onion price hike at the Parliament House in New Delhi on December 5, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

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Ministers are engaged in bluff and bluster, the former Union Finance Minister says.

A day after his release from Tihar jail on bail, former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Thursday questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘silence’ on the economic slowdown, accused the government of being ‘clueless even as its ministers engaged in bluff and bluster’ and asserted that his “record as a minister and his conscience was clear”.

Mr. Chidambaram, who spent 106 days in judicial remand in cases of money laundering and corruption, also hinted at the hardships he faced in his long incarceration by stating that his “spine and head had become stronger by sleeping on a wooden cot without a pillow.”

“Even after 7 months into the fiscal year, the BJP government believes that the problems faced by the economy are cyclical… It is wrong because it is clueless. It is unable to look for the obvious clues because it is stubborn and mulish in defending its catastrophic mistakes like demonetisation, flawed GST, tax terrorism, regulatory overkill, protectionism, and centralised control of decision-making in the PMO,” he told reporters at the Congress office where he last addressed a press conference on the night of his arrest.

Mr. Chidambaram’s blistering attack on the government on the economy came on a day when the Reserve Bank of India revised the GDP growth estimates for the current year from 7.4% to 5%.

He said the Prime Minister remained “unusually silent but allows his ministers to engage in bluff and bluster.” “The net result, as The Economist put it, is that the government has turned out to be an ‘incompetent manager’ of the economy”. Nothing sums up the state of the economy better than the following series of numbers: 8, 7, 6.6, 5.8, 5 and 4.5 Those are the quarterly growth rates of GDP in the last six quarters. The third and fourth quarters of 2019-20 are not likely to be any better. We will be lucky to end the year if growth touches 5 per cent”.

Mr. Chidambaram asserted that the economic issues were structural and not cyclical. All indicators such as low rural wages and low rural consumption, less number of working days for daily wage earners, higher demand for work under the NREGA and lower sale of fast-moving consumer goods pointed to a depression in demand. “There is no demand today. People don’t want to buy because they have less money and they have less confidence about the future,” he said.

Asked about industrialist Rahul Bajaj telling Union Home Minister Amit Shah that people were scared to criticise the government, he said the businessman was tall enough to make those remarks at a meeting but there was “complete fear everywhere and the media is no exception”.

Mr. Chidambaram began his press conference by appreciating the Supreme Court bail order. He asserted that his stay in Tihar had only underscored the importance of freedom, especially for the political leaders in Kashmir.

‘Freedom lost in Kashmir’

“As I stepped out and breathed the air of freedom at 8 p.m. last night, my first thought and prayers were for the 75 lakh people of the Kashmir Valley who have been denied their basic freedoms since August 4, 2019... I am particularly concerned about the political leaders who have been detained without charges,” he said, adding that he would like to visit Kashmir if the government allowed.

Taking care not to violate the top court's gag order on speaking about the merits of his case, Mr. Chidambaram said: “My record as a minister and my conscience are absolutely clear... We have total confidence that the courts will, ultimately, render justice”.

When asked if it was vendetta that kept him in jail for 106 days, he turned to his favourite poet Thiruvalluvar to say “those who do wrong and evil to you, do good to them”.

To a query on recent instances of rape, he said, “There is a complete breakdown of law and order in many parts of the country.”

PTI adds:

According to the Congress leader, the previous UPA dispensation had lifted 14 crore people out of poverty between 2004-2014, while the NDA had pushed millions of people below the poverty line since 2016.

“The economy can be brought out of the slowdown, but this government is incapable of doing that,” he said. “I believe that the Congress and some other parties are better equipped to pull the economy out of the slowdown and push economic growth, but we have to wait for better times.”

Asked about industrialist Rahul Bajaj, who had asked Union Home Minister Amit Shah if people were scared to criticise the government, Mr. Chidambaram said: “There is fear everywhere. Media also gripped with fear.”

He said if the government believed that the Gandhi family did not require SPG protection, “then that is a cross the government has to bear”.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 12:59:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/pm-unusually-silent-govt-clueless-on-economy-says-chidambaram/article30182667.ece

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