FM Arun Jaitley accuses Yashwant Sinha of acting in tandem with former finance minister P Chidambaram forgetting the harsh words the two had used for each other
New Delhi: Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday took a dig at predecessors Yashwant Sinha and P. Chidambaram, who have been critical of his handling of the Indian economy.
In a speech at a book release function, Jaitley reminded Sinha, a colleague of his in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that when he was finance minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1998-2002, non-performing assets (NPAs) of commercial banks stood at a “staggering" 15% of total advances. And in 1991, Sinha had left the office of finance minister with only $4 billion of foreign exchange reserves.
“The Reserve Bank of India had to bring down interest rates radically to deal with the high level of NPAs," Jaitley said.
Sinha had written in a column published in The Indian Express on Wednesday that the economy is on a “downward spiral" and specifically blamed Jaitley for demonetization, which he claimed was an “unmitigated economic disaster" and a “badly conceived and poorly implemented" goods and services tax (GST) that has played “havoc" with businesses.
“The Prime Minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working overtime to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters," Sinha wrote.
Jaitley said he does not have the luxury of being a former finance minister who has turned a columnist and cannot conveniently forget the past record.
Another former finance minister, the Congress party’s Chidambaram, who has always been on the opposite side of the spectrum from Sinha on every debate, endorsed the latter’s views on Jaitley and the economy. He wrote in a Twitter post on Wednesday: “Yashwant Sinha speaks Truth to Power. Will Power now admit the Truth that economy is sinking?"
Jaitley reminded both former finance ministers of the not-so charitable views about each other that they had expressed in the past, which he said he had garnered through some research.
“Acting in tandem will not change facts," Jaitley said.
Taking a cue from the title of the book he was releasing, Jaitley said perhaps the book could have been better titled as “India@70, Modi@3.5 and a job applicant @80".
A day after his father’s critical views on the government were published, minister of state for charge of aviation Jayant Sinha defended the government in an article published in The Times of India.
“Several articles have been written recently on the challenges facing the Indian economy. Unfortunately, these articles draw sweeping conclusions from a narrow set of facts, and quite simply miss the fundamental structural reforms that are transforming the economy. Moreover, one or two quarters of GDP (gross domestic product) growth and other macro data are quite inadequate to evaluate the long-term impact of the structural reforms underway," he wrote.
Senior ministers from the government—home minister Rajnath Singh and railway minister Piyush Goyal—also defended Jaitley and the Narendra Modi government’s record on Wednesday.
Jaitley said some people were trying to subvert the debate by claiming demonetization to be a “confiscation of currency". Because of demonetization, he said, anonymous tender that had been circulating in the market was identified with its owners, and they now have to pay taxes.
The finance minister also said that direct tax collections had grown 17.5% during the April-August period. “The so-called (economic) slowdown that some visualize has not impacted it," he said.
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