Criticising the BJP government for not providing a ‘very supportive’ environment for India’s growth, former finance minister P Chidambaram said demonetisation and the GST have caused a severe setback to the economy which is now becoming visible.
Delivering a public lecture on ‘An Emerging Power Engages the World: India and Australia’, at the Australia India Institute on Tuesday, Chidambaram said “the current environment, unlike 1991 or 2004, is not very supportive to implement major reforms.”
“There are too many distractions, and there has been a few major disruptions,” he said. He alleged that the RSS and BJP have been responsible for the numerous distractions, some of which, he said, are also infractions of the law.
“By questionable actions, and words, or ominous silence, they ignited debates on inter-faith marriages, sale and consumption of beef, cultural norms, dress codes, primacy of Hindi language, nationalism, raising slogans in praise of motherland, uniform civil code and special status of Jammu and Kashmir,” Chidambram said.
He said such debates have only divided the society more and created fear among Dalits, tribals, minority communities, women and youth.
He referred to demonetisation and introduction of GST as two major disruptions, alleging that they caused a severe setback to the economy as a result of which GDP growth rate dipped every quarter during the last five quarters.
“You will not be wrong to draw the conclusion that India’s economic growth faces very strong headwinds. The impact of the political storms that have been started is visible. Economic growth has slowed down,” he told the audience.
Chidambaram said that more than political mobilisation, it was the social mobilisation which was impressive as young men and women in the universities were asserting themselves and raising their voices against what they perceived as injustices.
“Among social groups, the Dalits have become quite vocal. Neglected castes among OBCs are building organisations to take on the governmnet at the time of elections,” he said.
The Congress leader said that the key and trigger point is the rise in unemployment which is fueling the anger among youths.
Stressing on the need to carry out major structural reforms, the former minister said that the Centre is shy of reforming the labour laws originally enacted by Parliament and among the states, the few who were willing to do reforms faced resistance from trade unions.
“The result is that few regular jobs….There is a growing contractualisation and casualisation of labour, especially for the new entrants to the labour force. The same can be said about reforming the markets for land, farm produce and finance,” he said.
However, he said that there was some good work across the country done by numerous individuals like Kailash Satyarthi, Rajendra Singh and organisations like Goonj, Sulabh Sauchalaya and Asha.
Commenting on the growing relations with Australia, Chidambaram said the bilateral ties have risen rapidly in the last decade.
The signing of Civil nuclear cooperation deal in 2014 was a landmark agreement, he said. “I expect Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement that is under discussion will prove to be another landmark.”
“My party, Congress, is a strong supporter of closer economic ties between the two countries,” he said.