Govt without a clue on economy, PM 'unusually' silent: Chidambaram

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram

A day after stepping out of jail on bail, former finance minister P Chidambaram on Thursday tore into the government's management of economy, accusing it of being "clueless, stubborn and mulish", adding the economic slowdown in the country is a "man-made catastrophe".

Alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been "unusually silent" on the state of economy, a combative Chidambaram said the BJP leader has left it to his ministers to indulge in "bluff and bluster".

Turning to poetry and appearing emotional at certain times, the 74-year-old Congress veteran refused to speak on the INX Media case pending against him and focused mostly on the economy at his packed press conference at the AICC headquarters.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted Chidambaram bail in the money laundering case linked to INX Media but restrained him from either giving media interviews or any public comment on the case.

The Congress leader was in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI), the Enforcement Directorate(ED) and in Tihar jail here for 106 days. The CBI is probing allegations of corruption against him.

"In the last 106 days, I was strong in spirit and I have become stronger record as minister and my conscience are absolutely clear," he said.

"Officers who have worked with me, business persons who have interacted with me and journalists who have observed me know that very well. My family trusts in God. We have total confidence that the courts will, ultimately, render justice," he said.

The BJP took on Chidambaram and accused him of violating bail conditions by claiming to have a very clear record as a minister, and said the case against him was essentially about corruption he was allegedly involved in as the finance minister.

BJP leader and Union minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters that the claim of Chidambaram amounted to "self-certification".

"P Chidambaram has violated the bail condition on the very first day after his release.... What he said is in violation of this condition."

Chidambaram, a former union home minister, also slammed the Centre over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, saying it had an "ill-thought out, ill-founded and ill-intentioned" design and policy to suppress the basic freedoms of the people there. He also said he intended to visit Jammu and Kashmir if the government allowed him to do so.

"As I stepped out and breathed the air of freedom at 8 pm yesterday, my first thought and prayers were for the 75 lakh people of the Kashmir Valley, who have been denied their basic freedoms since August 4," he said, referring to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories. The news conference lasted nearly 35 minutes.

Chidambaram, a Rajya Sabha MP, was earlier greeted by Congress and other opposition members when he entered the Upper House. "Welcome back Sir", said Derek O'Brien of the Trinamool Congress.

Chidambaram returned the greetings and sat on his regular seat in the second row of the Opposition benches and asked for business scheduled for the day from the Rajya Sabha staff.

"The government cannot suppress my voice in Parliament," he told reporters in Parliament complex.

Discussing the economy at his news conference, Chidambaram said nothing sums up the state of the economy better than the series of numbers, 8, 7, 6.6, 5.8, 5 and 4.5, a reference to quarterly growth rates of the GDP in the last six quarters.

He said the prescription will be useless if the diagnosis is wrong.

"Even after seven months into the fiscal year, the BJP government believes the problems faced by the economy are cyclical. The government is wrong. It is wrong because it is clueless," he said.

The government is unable to look for the obvious clues because it is "stubborn and mulish" in defending its "catastrophic mistakes" such as demonetisation, flawed GST, tax terrorism, regulatory overkill, protectionism, and centralised control of decision-making in the Prime Minister's Office, he alleged.

Alleging that Modi has been "unusually silent" on the economy, Chidambaram said, "he has left it to his ministers to indulge in bluff and bluster."

"The net result, as The Economist put it, is that the government has turned out to be an 'incompetent manager' of the economy."

Taking a swipe at the government, Chidambaram said it is calling the present slowdown "cyclical". "Thank god it has not called it seasonal."

"It is 'structural' and the government has no solutions or reforms that would address the structural problems," he said.

"The economy can be brought out of the slowdown, but this government is incapable of doing that," he said.

"I believe the Congress and some other parties are better equipped to pull the economy out of the slowdown and push economic growth, but we have to wait for better times," the former finance minister said.

On BJP MP Nishikant Dubey remarks that the the GDP has no relevance, Chidambaram said according to the BJP's ideas of reform, GDP numbers are irrelevant, protectionism is good, personal income tax will be cut and custom duties must be increased.

Asked about industrialist Rahul Bajaj, who had asked Union Home Minister Amit Shah if people were scared to criticise the government, Chidambaram said the businessman is tall enough to make those remarks at a meeting but there is "complete fear everywhere".

"Every institution is gripped by fear and the media is no exception... Please shed fear, please speak truth to power," he said.

Asked if parallels can be drawn between the government's assurances on issues in Kashmir and the economy, Chidambaram answered in the negative, saying as far as economy is concerned "the reason is incompetence, while in Kashmir, it is the government's arrogance".

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