New Delhi: Launching a blistering attack on the government a day after stepping out of jail on bail, Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday alleged that the government was "clueless" about the economy and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had left it to his ministers to indulge in "bluff and bluster".
The former finance minister said nothing sums up the state of the economy better than the series of numbers, 8, 7, 6.6, 5.8, 5 and 4.5, a reference to quarterly growth rates of the GDP (gross domestic product) in the last six quarters.
Turning to poetry and appearing emotional at certain times, the senior Congress leader refused to speak on the case pending against him and focused mostly on the economy in his press conference.
Discussing the economy, Chidambaram said the prescription would be useless if the diagnosis was wrong.
"Even after seven months into the fiscal year, the BJP government believes the problems faced by the economy are cyclical. The government is wrong. It is wrong because it is clueless," he said.
The government is unable to look for the obvious clues because it is "stubborn and mulish" in defending its "catastrophic mistakes", such as demonetisation, flawed Goods and Services Tax, tax terrorism, regulatory overkill, protectionism, and centralised control of decision-making in the Prime Minister's Office, he alleged.
Chidambaram alleged that Modi has been "unusually silent" on the economy.
"He has left it to his ministers to indulge in bluff and bluster. The net result, as The Economist (magazine) put it, is that the government has turned out to be an 'incompetent manager' of the economy," he said.
Taking a swipe at the government, Chidambaram said it was calling the present slowdown "cyclical"; thank god it has not called it seasonal, he added.
"It is 'structural' and the government has no solutions or reforms that would address the structural problems," he said.
Asserting that the government "is in denial" over the state of the economy, Chidambaram pointed out that rural consumption is down according to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) as are rural wages and producer prices, especially for the farmers.
There is less demand among the people because they have less money and less appetite to consume due to uncertainty and fear, Chidambaram claimed.
According to the Congress leader, the previous United Progressive Alliance dispensation lifted 14 crore people out of poverty between 2004-2014, while the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance had pushed millions of people below the poverty line since 2016.
"The economy can be brought out of the slowdown, but this government is incapable of doing that," he said.
On BJP MP Nishikant Dubey remarks that GDP has no relevance, Chidambaram said, according to the BJP's ideas of reform, GDP numbers are irrelevant, protectionism is good, personal income tax will be cut and custom duties must be increased.
Asked about industrialist Rahul Bajaj, who had asked Union Home Minister Amit Shah if people were scared to criticise the government, Chidambaram said the businessman is tall enough to make those remarks at a meeting but there is "complete fear everywhere".
"Every institution is gripped by fear and the media is no exception... Please shed fear, please speak truth to power," he said.
He quoted his "favourite poet" Thiruvalluvar to say "those who do wrong and evil to you, do good to them" when asked about vendetta politics.
The 74-year-old leader began his press conference with a reference to Kashmir.
Chidambaram, who is also former Home Minister, said his first thoughts upon his release were with the Kashmiri people who "have been denied their basic freedoms since August 4, 2019".
Asked if parallels can be drawn between the government's assurances on issues in Kashmir and the economy, Chidambaram answered in the negative, saying as far as economy is concerned "the reason is incompetence, while in Kashmir, it is the government's arrogance".
The former minister also expressed his sympathies for students protesting against fee hike in universities such as JNU and IIMC.