Govt must reverse wrong decisions that are still reversible

20-Karti Fighting together: Chidambaram with his son Karti | PTI

Interview/ P. Chidambaram, former Union finance minister

  • NITI Aayog is neither fish nor fowl.... After the constitution of the PM’s Economic Advisory Council, it has lost its relevance.

Do you think the objectives of demonetisation have been achieved?

None of the declared objectives of demonetisation has been achieved. Black money continues to be generated and used. Fake currency has emerged even in the new Rs 2,000 note. Terrorist incidents, infiltration, civilian casualties and death among security forces have increased in 2017.

Has the Goods and Services Tax taken a toll on small, medium and micro businesses in India? What do you have to say about the current GST structure?

Demonetisation and GST have practically wiped out micro enterprises and put thousands of small industries and firms out of business. Compliance requirements have placed an intolerable burden on medium businesses. Exporters have been squeezed because they no longer enjoy a tax exemption—they have to first pay and apply for refund. Working capital requirements of all businesses have gone up sharply and, therefore, many have cut back production. The current GST is not a true GST. It is hopelessly flawed in concept, design, rates, compliance requirements, backbone, etc. Many discerning observers have pointed out these basic flaws.

It is the Congress which actually wanted to bring out the GST. What were the stumbling blocks for the party when it was in power?

The stumbling block was the BJP, particularly the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Later, Tamil Nadu joined the column of obstructing states. Mr Pranab Mukherjee had introduced the GST Constitution Amendment Bill in Parliament. I pleaded with the BJP leadership to cooperate in passing the bill. They flatly refused. We wasted about five years in introducing GST.

What do you have to say on the Indian economy as a whole? Even BJP leaders like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha have said that the slowdown is intensifying. What do you think can now be done for the revival of the economy?

I have been speaking and writing on the slowdown for the last 18 months. Mr Yashwant Sinha and Mr Arun Shourie have broadly endorsed my views. They have given cogent reasons in support of their arguments. What can be done now? First, the government must acknowledge that they had made serious mistakes and there is a slowdown. Second, the government must identify the proximate causes of the slowdown and address those causes. Third, the government must reverse many wrong decisions that are still reversible. Only the government has full information and data. Let the government come out with its proposals and we, in the opposition, will comment on the merits of the proposals.

How do you assess the performance of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley? If you were to advise him, what would you want to tell him?

I am not a rating agency. Besides, I am in the opposition. I express my views, and my writings and speeches contain suggestions. It is for the finance minister to glean any advice or suggestion from my writings and speeches.

What is your assessment of NITI Aayog’s performance?

What has NITI Aayog done so far? NITI Aayog is neither fish nor fowl nor a good red herring! It is not a planning body. It is not an allocator of budget funds to different ministries and departments. It is not a think tank. So, what is it? And, after the constitution of the PM’s Economic Advisory Council, I am afraid, it has lost its relevance.

There seems to be a sudden revival of the Congress. Why has this happened?

More and more people are disappointed with the performance of the BJP government. What have they delivered in terms of jobs, educational opportunities, health care, housing, etc? If you do a careful and in-depth analysis, you would find that the lives of the vast majority of the people have not improved in the last 42 months. The people’s disappointment and disapproval are turning them against the BJP and towards the Congress. When people warm up to a political party, that party will become more energised and active.

Will the results of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections be a precursor to the 2019 elections? What would be the Congress’s strategy in the run-up to 2019?

The Congress expects to do well in the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. There are more state elections before 2019. The Congress will work out an appropriate strategy for each election. The broad theme will be the nonperformance of the government and the monumental mistakes it has made, and continues to make, that are depriving the people of jobs and incomes.

Do you think Rahul Gandhi can match up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image in the next elections? Do you think elevating Rahul as Congress president would help the party score more victories?

The Congress party occupies the pole position among opposition parties. If Mrs Sonia Gandhi is not inclined to continue as Congress president, it is our right and obligation to choose a new leader. The AICC, reflecting the will of the party’s millions of workers, will choose the new leader. I expect that the new leader will be Mr Rahul Gandhi.

Leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee have been alleging that the Centre is using the CBI and other investigating agencies to browbeat opponents. Is that the case with the inquiries into the allegations against your son Karti Chidambaram?

I shall not comment on cases against individuals. In the case of my son, there are only allegations. There is no charge-sheet. There are no charges. I am the real target. In order to silence my voice and my writing, the government is misusing agencies to harass my son. He is strong and brave, and will face these utterly false and malicious allegations through the process of law. I have said, ‘If the government finds one asset—property, bank account, etc—that I or my family members have not disclosed in our income tax and wealth tax returns, let the government draw up a document and I and my family members will sign the document and transfer that asset in favour of the government, and let government become the owner of that asset.’

It takes an absolutely clean consci-ence to make the above statement.

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