New Delhi: Breaking his silence on criticism from fellow party leader and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday hit back, calling him an 80-year-old job applicant who has forgotten his own record and is commenting on people rather than policies.
Jaitley accused Yashwant of acting in tandem with senior Congress leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram, saying the two had forgotten the harsh words they have used for each other in the past.
At a book release function, Jaitley refrained from taking Yashwant’s name but said he does not have the luxury as yet of being a former finance minister, nor does he have the luxury of being a former finance minister turned columnist. The first reference was for Yashwant and the second one for Chidambaram, who rode on the BJP leader’s criticism to assail Jaitley and the government’s handling of the economy post demonetisation and the transitionary impact caused by the GST.
Because had he been a former finance minister, Jaitley said, “I can conveniently forget a policy paralysis (during UPA-II). I can conveniently forget the 15% NPAs of 1998 and 2002 (during Yashwant’s term as finance minister). I can conveniently forget the $4 billion reserve left in 1991 and I can switch over and change the narrative.”
“Acting in tandem itself won’t change the facts,” he said, as he took a jibe at Yashwant for seeking a job by making those comments. “Probably, a more appropriate title for the book would have been ‘India @70, Modi @3.5 and a job applicant @80,” he said, at the release of the book titled India @70 Modi @3.5.
Yashwant, 84, in an Indian Express article, headlined ‘I need to speak up now’, criticised Jaitley over the “mess the finance minister has made of the economy” and went on to slam the government over decisions like the note ban and the GST, the new universal tax regime.
“The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working over-time to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters,” Yashwant wrote.
Jaitley also brought up advice given to him by senior L.K. Advani when he spoke in parliament in 1999 on the Bofors issue, on not making personal comments while speaking on issues. He said he had some very distinguished predecessors including a former president (Pranab Mukherjee) and a former prime minister (Manmohan Singh), and then other predecessors have “decided to act in concert.”
“Because speaking on persons and then bypassing the issues is something which is very easily done,” he said.
The finance minister, who is facing criticism as the economy has slipped to its slowest pace of growth in three years, said he has done a little research to pull out what Yashwant and Chidambaram had to say about each other in the past.
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“One said of the other: ‘Chidambaram will have to be born again to match my record as finance minister’. He then linked finance minister Chidambaram to an incompetent doctor for failing to curb India’s alarming fiscal deficit. And then went on and said ‘I accuse him of running the economy down to the ground,” he said in apparent reference to comments made by Yashwant.
The former finance minister, he said, had accused Chidambaram of being “the most conceited person” who bugged his phones. “‘Today with complete responsibility I want to say when I raised the issue of Aircel-Maxis, Chidambaram ordered my phones to be bugged’,” Jaitley quoted him as saying.
Not to be left behind, Chidambaram called Yashwant’s tenure during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government the “worst years since liberalisation”.
“The other one was not to be left behind. And he said ‘I thought Shri Sinha would be happy to remain a distant memory for the people of India. However, since he seems determined to stay relevant in his party, I am obliged to recall his record during his four years as finance minister. I may point out the 2000-2001 and 2002-2003 were the worst years since liberalisation in terms of growth and Prime Minister Vajpayee had then to force him out and replace him’,” he said.
Yashwant’s son, Union minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha, also wrote a counter to his father’s article, defending the Narendra Modi government. “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 growth and other macro data are quite inadequate to evaluate the long-term impact of the structural reforms underway,” Jayant’s article in the Economic Times said.
Responding to Jayant’s article, Yashwant told NDTV on Thursday (September 28) night, “If he wrote it on his own, then that is fine; but if he was asked to write it by someone, then it is a cheap trick to pit son against father.”
When asked why he decided to go public with his criticism, Yashwant said, “I found the doors were shut for me. Therefore, I had no option but to speak up (in media)…I am confident I have worthwhile suggestions to make (to the prime minister).” Referring to his son’s defence of the government, Yashwant sought to know why Jayant was shifted from the finance ministry “if he was so competent” to answer the concerns raised by him.
Yashwant said he did not flag the issues out of “personal rancour”.
(With PTI inputs)