NEW DELHI: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has responded to industrialist Rahul Bajaj's statement that India Inc was afraid of criticising the Narendra Modi government, saying spreading one's own impression "can hurt national interest" - a remark that drew sharp reactions on social media.
At The Economic Times' ET Awards event in Mumbai on Saturday evening, Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Group, had told Sitharaman, Home Minister Amit Shah and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on dias that people are afraid of criticising the BJP government's policies and added that no one in the business community would speak about this issue.
Shah had responded to him saying there is "no need to fear about anything. The Narendra Modi government has been criticised continuously in media. But, if you are saying that there is such an environment, we need to work to improve this."
Bajaj found support in Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar Shaw who said the government treated India Inc as "pariahs" and doesn't want to hear any criticism of the economy.
"Hope the govt reaches out to India inc for working out solutions to revive consumption n growth. So far we are all pariahs n govt does not want to hear any criticism of our economy," she tweeted on Sunday evening.
Soon after, Sitharaman tweeted a video of the ET event to say: "Home Minister @AmitShah answers on how issues raised by Shri. Rahul Bajaj were addressed. Questions/criticisms are heard and answered/addressed."
"Always a better way to seek an answer than spreading one's own impressions which, on gaining traction, can hurt national interest," she said.
Her remarks drew varied responses with the opposition Congress seizing on it to criticise the government.
Congress leader and former union minister Kapil Sibal said: "Rahul Bajaj only said: Industry fears to criticise government."
"Does national interest lie in praising you!," he tweeted.
His party spokesperson Salman Anees Soz said that "Only an insecure, incompetent, and intolerant government will stoop so low as to characterize government criticism as against the national interest."
Defending the government, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri alleged there were fake narratives.
"That Mr Rahul Bajaj could stand up to Sh @AmitShah Ji's face, express himself freely & instigate others to join him clearly indicate that freedom of expression & democratic values are alive & flourishing in India. This is exactly what democracy is all about," he tweeted.
Minister of Railways and Commerce Piyush Goyal referred to Shah's response to Bajaj's remarks to say there is no fear.
"See Home Minister @amitshah respond to Rahul Bajaj's claim that people are afraid to express themselves. After hearing your question I doubt anybody believes this claim that people are afraid," he tweeted.
A day before the ET event, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated that many industrialists have told him they lived in fear of harassment by government authorities.
Delivering the valedictory speech at the National Economy Conclave, Singh had on Friday warned: "There is a palpable climate of fear in our society today. Many industrialists tell me they live in fear of harassment by government authorities.
"Bankers are reluctant to make new loans, for fear of retribution.
"Entrepreneurs are hesitant to put up fresh projects, for fear of failure attributed to ulterior motives.
"Technology start-ups that are an important new engine of economic growth and jobs, seem to live under a shadow of constant surveillance and deep suspicion."