Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that her comment that she did not eat garlic and onion had been taken “out of context".
The comment, made in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, was widely circulated on social media amid an increase in the price of onions. Sitharaman said she had been falsely accused of being “elitist".
Earlier, former finance minister and Congress leader P. Chidambaram questioned the government’s preparedness in dealing with the onion price surge and, in a reference to Sitharaman, said, “Does she eat avocado?"
Sitharaman also defended her move to roll back the proposed super rich tax, and countered criticism about the government’s management of the economy. She reminded the House about the policy flip-flops made by the Opposition Congress when it was in office.
Sitharaman denied that the National Democratic Alliance government was elitist in any way.
“Criticism of the economy is welcome... this government is continuously responding and steps are being taken. You may like it, or you may not like it. You may think it is adequate or inadequate, I am quite willing to buy that. But not an allegation that this government is elitist," she said.
She highlighted the success of schemes such as the Ujjwala Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojna and the Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana, while asserting the government’s pro-poor credentials.
Replying to a discussion in Rajya Sabha on the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Sitharaman countered criticism of the NDA government’s decision to withdraw the tax proposal on foreign portfolio investors, saying that the roll back per se was not bad.
She pointed out that the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had introduced the fringe benefit tax (FBT) in 2005, but another finance minister belonging to the “same party" later withdrew it. FBT was introduced by Chidambaram, and withdrawn by Pranab Mukherjee in 2009-10. Sitharaman also reminded the Opposition of the Banking Cash Transaction Tax (BCTT) introduced in 2005 by Chidambaram, which was withdrawn in 2009.
Sitharaman said the Modi administration’s policies were in response to what was happening on the ground and to global economic developments. The Upper House later passed the bill that replaces an ordinance promulgated in September to lower the tax rates for domestic companies and new manufacturing companies. The bill, which is now set to be signed into law by the President, contains additional clarifications about eligibility for the lower tax regime.
Speaking at a press conference later, Chidambaram said, “They should have planned in advance, what is the point of importing (onion) now, when will they arrive. But if the finance minister says ‘I don’t eat onions’, that shows the mindset of this government."
PTI contributed to this story.