Applauding Yashwant Sinha for “speaking truth to power” about the economy, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said on Wednesday that it would be a “miracle” if the BJP-led government manages to turn around the economy before its term ends in 2019. Asking industry captains and others to speak up, the senior Congress leader said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the head of the government, must take responsibility for the economic
Targeting the government, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Ladies & Gentlemen, this is your copilot & FM speaking. Plz fasten your seat belts & take brace position. The wings have fallen off our plane.”
Chidambaram said Sinha’s views “coincide” with the Congress’s views, and are also “not very different from” the views of several BJP MPs expressed “privately and in soft whispers.” He said it is a “sad commentary on our times that MPs are afraid to reflect what they see and hear around them, especially in their constituencies.”
“If, in this atmosphere of fear, Sinha speaks out…we welcome that because he is speaking truth to power,” he said.
Chidambaram said the government is collectively responsible for the slump in the economy. “The government must bear responsibility and, as the head of the government, the Prime Minister must bear responsibility. Of course, as the minister in charge of the portfolio, the Finance Minister has to share a very, very large part of the blame,” he said.
Stating that “this year appears to be a bleak year” for the economy, he said that re-constituting the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister was like “putting bandaid on several broken limbs.”
“It will be a miracle if they can turn it (economy) around before the 2019 general elections,” said Chidambaram. “The only thing they have not claimed so far is that they are capable of performing miracles,” he added. He said the government was clueless about what was causing the economic decline.
“How long will the government hide behind the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the slogans of the party? It is a small mercy that we no longer hear the slogan ‘achhe din aanewale hai’. As I travel around the country, what I hear is ‘achhe din to aaye nahi, yeh burre din kab jaayenge?’ My appeal to all of you, and especially to those who are knowledgeable about the economy, is to speak and write without fear. Darr ko chhod do (leave fear aside),” said Chidambaram.
Chidambaram said industry leaders should speak up. “Indian industry doesn’t complain. They complain to us privately. Indian industry must speak up…Indian industry must at least have the courage to speak on matters relating to the economy…just go back…how active the CII, Assocham and FICCI were when we were in government. How many meetings they held and criticised us…There is an atmosphere of fear…The doyens of Indian industry should speak up, say what is happening,” he said.
He said the Congress had been saying that “private investment has shrunk as never before in two decades, industrial production has all but collapsed, exports have dwindled, demonetisation has proved to be an unmitigated disaster, badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them and countless millions have lost their jobs with hardly any new opportunities coming the way of the new entrants to the labour market.” Chidambaram said the design of the GST was “flawed”, and its implementation “terrible.”
Arguing against relaxing the fiscal deficit target, Chidambaram said it was a “terrible idea”. He said the target of 3.2 per cent set by the government was itself a relaxation. “If they relax the target further, it means that the revenues are under pressure, the expenditure is out of control, that they are not worried about inflation and that they are not worried about interest rates going up. All this will only add to the distress in the economy.”
Meanwhile, senior Left leader D Raja said the government should take note of Sinha’s article. “He is one of the senior leaders of the BJP. He is also the former Finance Minister. He knows how economy functions. And he is not the first person, several economists have come out to say that the economy is in a bad shape, in shambles. Economic slowdown is a concern. But Prime Minister Modi keeps talking about development. There is neither job creation, nor economic growth. What is the development that he is talking about. I don’t know whether the government will take note of such opinions or simply dismiss everything and continue to live in their own make-believe world,” he said.