Over the past few weeks, P Chidambaram and Narendra Modi have been targeting each other over their respective economics, the former saying Modi’s knowledge of the subject can be written on the back of a postage stamp, the latter flaunting his hard work against the finance minister’s Harvard degree.
Each responded to the other Monday, Chidambaram during his speech on the interim budget, and the BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful on Twitter. Chidambaram did not name Modi, but the reference to hard work and Harvard couldn’t be missed: “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.” This was in the context of containing the fiscal deficit “at 4.6 per cent of GDP” and the current account deficit “at $45 billion” in the current fiscal , where “growth for the whole year has been estimated at 4.9 per cent” with “at least 5.2 per cent” growth in the last two quarters.
Modi then went on Twitter with, “It is up to the people to decide whether the Economist PM & FM have been ‘hard working’ or ‘hardly working’ in their tenure.” He added, “FM eats up plan exp, rolls over Rs 35,000 cr subsidies to next yr to contain fiscal deficit even as non-plan exp overshoots! Real hard work!”
Chidambaram’s budget speech also had echoes of the Congress’s campaign theme that brands Modi authoritarian, saying, “Democracy acknowledges diversity, respects dissent, encourages debate, and decides through a government of elected representatives. Neither populism nor majoritarianism nor individualism is an alternative way of governance.” Chidambaram then referred to the Nehruvian ideals of “democracy, religious tolerance, economic development and cultural pluralism”. The Congress has been alleging these ideals are under threat with Modi’s rise.
Chidambaram went on to highlight the financial inclusion of minorities during the 10 years of UPA rule. “Ten years ago, the minorities had 14,15,000 bank accounts in 121 districts of India where there is a concentration of minorities. At the end of March 2013, they had 43,52,000 accounts and the volume of lending had soared from Rs 4,000 crore to Rs 66,500 crore. Loans to minority communities in the whole country stood at Rs 211,451 crore at the end of December 2013.”
The government under frequent attack for policy paralysis, Chidamabaram said. “I reject the argument of policy paralysis . Over a period of 33 years, the trend growth rate in India has been 6.2 per cent. Average annual GDP growth during the period 1999-2004 was 5.9 per cent, that is below the trend rate. In the next five year period 2004-2009, it was 8.4 per cent and, in the period 2009-2014, going by the CSO’s estimate, it will be 6.6 per cent. UPA-I and UPA-II have delivered above the trend growth rate.”
Modi responded, “FM says 296 projects worth Rs. 6.6 lakh crore cleared recently. Why were these projects held back at all? Is it not policy paralysis?” He blamed Chidambaram’s policies for unemployment and deceleration of investment in manufacturing. “ While the FM may pat his own back, the fact remains that our youth is bearing the brunt of rising unemployment. Manufacturing is the Achilles’ heel, deceleration in investment in manufacturing worrying.this is result of ‘wonders’ of UPA’s policies.”
While BJP seeks to woo the industry with Modi’s reformist claims, Chidmabaram countered that with, “I regret to record my disappointment that the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill and the Securities Laws (Amendment) Bill have not been passed by Parliament for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the Bills.” He did not mention the BJP as he added, “I leave it to you to answer the question, who blocked the GST when an agreement on the game-changing tax reform was around the corner?”
One tweet by Modi went, “The only solace one gets from the vote-on-account is that this was UPA’s final act of misery after a decade of decay & policy paralysis.”