New Delhi: Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha has ruffled feathers in the ruling BJP with his strong critique on the state of Indian economy, saying it was headed for a “hard landing”. The government rejected the criticism while the Congress hailed his assessment.
In an article in The Indian Express, Sinha, who was Finance Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and is now estranged from the party, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi “claims he has seen poverty from close quarters (and) his Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley) is working over-time to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters”.
Illustrating the picture of the economy today, Sinha said private investment had shrunk “as never before in two decades” while industrial production had all but collapsed.
“Agriculture is in distress, construction industry, a big employer of the work force, is in the doldrums, the rest of the service sector is also in the slow lane, exports have dwindled, sector after sector of the economy is in distress.”
He singled out demonetisation, saying spiking large currency notes “has proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster” which coupled with “a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST” has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them.
The outspoken Sinha noted that Jaitley, who also holds the department of disinvestment and Department of Corporate Affairs and earlier held the Defence Ministry, was carrying the “heavy burden” of many extra responsibilities and it was “perhaps too much to expect from” him.
Sinha said he was speaking about the mess after realizing that “I shall be failing in my national duty if I did not speak up even now”.
“I am also convinced that (it) reflects the sentiments of a large number of people in the BJP and elsewhere who are not speaking up out of fear.”
Congress leader and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram lauded Sinha’s critique, saying he was absolutely correct when he wrote that “instilling fear in the minds of the people is name of the new game”.
Chidambaram said the Congress had assiduously exposed the “many weaknesses and a terrible mismanagement” of the economy.
“We are happy that Yashwant Sinha has echoed our criticism,” said Chidambaram, who added: “It is not often that from this platform the principal opposition party will welcome a statement of a veteran leader of the ruling party.”
Chidambaram said Sinha’s views were not different from what MPs belonging to the BJP and other parties “have told us since many months privately and in soft whispers”.
He said it was a sad commentary on the times that MPs were afraid to reflect what they see and hear around them, especially in their constituencies. “Yet we call ourselves a free country.”
Chidambaram said it were not only MPs who have become silent. “We have witnessed numerous examples of news reports and articles being pulled out before publication; of television interviews being taken off air; of scheduled talks at universities being cancelled; of social activists being investigated on trumped up charges; of editors and reporters being unceremoniously sacked; of academics and scholars being threatened; of judges being indirectly punished; and, most tragically, of authentic voices of the people being silenced by brutal killings.”
Chidambaram said at least a dozen BJP MPs have “spoken to us” in the Central Hall and in committees about the economy. “Nobody dares to ask questions. An MP from Maharashtra who raised questions was asked to shut up. In this atmosphere of fear, if Sinha speaks up then he is speaking the truth.”
The government rejected Sinha’s criticism, saying the world acknowledged that India “is one of the fastest growing economies”.
“No one should forget it. Our image at the international level is very strong,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said Prime Minister Modi has given the “cleanest government” and had attacked black money and corruption like no one else has done.