'Economy not Jait-lagged, damage happened before'; Jaitley breaks silence on Yashwant Sinha, P Chidambaram's criticism
Breaking his silence on criticism by Yashwant Sinha, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today hit back calling him a job applicant at 80 years who has forgotten his record as finance minister.
After maintaining silence for one whole day, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday responded to the stinging attack launched by his party veteran and predecessor in the north block Yashwant Sinha on the way the economy is being managed. He hit back calling Sinha a job applicant at 80 years who has forgotten his record as finance minister and is commenting on persons rather than policies.
At the launch of a book titled ‘India @70 Modi @3.5', Jaitley refrained from taking Sinha's name but said he does not have the luxury as yet of being a former finance minister nor does he have the luxury of being a former finance minister who has turned a columnist. The first reference was for Sinha and the second one for Chidambaram, who rode on the BJP leader's criticism to assail Jaitley and the government's handling of the economy post demonetisation and transitionary impact caused by GST.
He added, “Probably, a more appropriate title for the book would have been ‘India @70, Modi @3.5 and a job applicant @ 80.”
He accused Sinha of acting in tandem with P Chidambaram, forgetting the harsh words the two had used for each other.
Sinha, 84, in a newspaper article headlined "I need to speak up now" criticised Jaitley over the "mess the finance minister has made of the economy" and went on to slam the government over decisions like note ban and the GST, the new universal tax regime.
"The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working over-time to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters," Sinha had written. Jaitley recalled the advice given to him by senior L K Advani when he spoke in Parliament in 1999 on the Bofors issue, of not making personal comments while speaking on issues.
He said he had some very distinguished predecessors including a former President (Pranab Mukherjee) and a former Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) and the other predecessors have "decided to act in concert."
"Because speaking on persons and then bypassing the issues is something which is very easily done," he said. The Finance Minister, who is facing criticism for overseeing economy to slip to its slowest pace of growth in three years, said he has done a little research to pull out what Sinha and Chidambaram had to say about each other in the past.
Not to be left behind, Chidambaram called Sinha's tenure during the Vajpayee government as the "worst years since liberalisation".
"One said to the other: 'Chidambaram will have to be born again to match my record as finance minister'. He then linked Finance Minister Chidambaram to an incompetent doctor for failing to curb India's alarming fiscal deficit. And then went on and said 'I accuse him of running the economy down to the ground," he said in apparent reference to comments made by Sinha.
The former finance minister, he said, had accused Chidambaram of being "the most conceited person" who bugged his phones. "'Today with complete responsibility I want to say when I raised the issue of Aircel-Maxis, Chidambaram ordered my phones to be bugged'," Jaitley quoted him as saying.
"The other one was not to be left behind. And he said 'I thought Shri Sinha would be happy to remain a distant memory for the people of India. However, since he seems determined to stay relevant in his party, I am obliged to recall his record during his four years as finance minister. I may point out the 2000-2001 and 2002-2003 were the worst years since liberalisation in terms of growth and Prime Minister Vajpayee had then to force him out and replace him'," he said.
However, another BJP dissident and Lok Sabha MP from Patna Shatrughan Sinha chipped in by throwing his weight behind Yashwant Sinha, saying the former finance minister has shown a mirror to the power. Shatrughan Sinha called upon critics of Yashwant Sinha to counter his claims with facts and not cast aspersions on the former finance minister.
But the BJP Kisan Morcha chief Virendra Singh Mast told a tv channel that Sinha was a failed fiancé minister and he had been replaced by the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mast reminded Sinha having mortgaged the gold of the country when he was the finance minister under Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.
Hours ahead of Jaitley’s statement, the Income Tax department was directed to bring 1.25 crore new tax filers — those who have not filed returns yet, but are liable to do so — into the net by the end of this financial year. The government also said it would stick to its budgeted market borrowing target for the current financial year, to make up the difference between its revenues and expenditures.
However, it did not rule out the possibility of selling additional bonds to fund any new spending. India’s deficit has already crossed 92 per cent of the full-year target, according to Reuters data. Adding to the concern, GST collections fell 3.6 per cent in August from July.
Jaitley said the mistakes of former Finance Ministers were being conveniently forgotten. “Like when UPA was accused of policy paralysis or when bad loans were as high as around 15 per cent when Sinha was the Finance Minister.”
The minister claimed his government had to take some “harsh steps” to control the “reckless lending” during the UPA era. This, he said, was the reason for the slowdown in private sector growth. “Between 2003 and 2008-09, private firms undertook large liabilities from banks, but did not find demand. When global commodity prices went down, many of them did not find their loans serviceable,” he said. “In 2012-14, bad loans mounted up.
Those in the government, banking industry and the RBI looked the other way as reckless spending took place.” However, World Bank data shows that India’s bad loans spiked sharply only after 2015. While the share of non-performing assets rose steadily from 2.67 per cent in 2011 to 5.88 per cent in 2015, it jumped to a whopping 9.18 per cent in 2016.
(With PTI inputs)