Finance minister P. Chidambaram, replying to the debate in Parliament on budgetary proposals for 2007-08, promised to contain inflation and claimed that the average inflation rate for 2006-07 was expected at 5.4%.
His reiteration came minutes after the latest weekly inflation data accelerated from 6.1% to 6.46%.
He warned cement manufacturers against raising prices and advised the state governments to take measures against hoarding of primary articles.
Having sat through three days of mocking criticism, and denied a chance to reply on Thursday due to repeated adjournments, the finance minister didn’t allow the uproar in Lok Sabha over Nandigram violence to stop him yet again.
Following his brief reply amid a growing din, he walked out towards television cameras. Instead of his customary sound bites, he read out much of his reply, which contained a point-by-point rebuttal of the ridicule levelled at his proposals.
The moment he was through, which was all of 24 minutes, the finance minister stepped back from the microphones and into his waiting car.
He was gone before the media could direct any questions at him. Camerapersons shook their heads in disbelief.
In his speech, the finance minister defended the Budget as one designed for the Congress’ plank of aam aadmi (common man).
“In every sector, the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government has, at the end of three years and at the beginning of the fourth year, made larger allocations than in all the six years of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government,” he said.
“Where is Mr Malhotra (Bharatiya Janata Party leader V.K. Malhotra, who opened the debate in Parliament on 12 March)?” he asked. “May I wish him a long life, many more years in the Opposition and many more speeches opposing the Budget?” he said, claiming the more vehement the Opposition, the better the growth story.
“I love the sea, I love trees and I love animals,” he began innocuously, referring to his much-derided customs duty cut on pet foods, before unleashing his pet ace. “At least one of my predecessors shares my love for animals,” he said, and disclosed that a former FM, the BJP’s Yashwant Sinha, had reduced customs duty on pet foods twice, in 2000-01 and 2002-03, from 40% to 35% and again to 30%. The thumping of desks by his party members could be imagined loud and clear on a sunny March afternoon, with curious security guards in attendance outside the House.