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Nirmala Sitharaman's comeback to Congress on economy is a bundle of darts

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 3 days ago HT Correspondent

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday responded to sharp attacks from the Congress-led opposition on the economy, with a quick comparison of the growth rate and fiscal deficit during government’s tenure with that of the previous UPA-led coalition.

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Sitharaman also rebutted claims that people were afraid to criticise the government. “If there is a government, Prime Minister and ministers who have been constantly pilloried, it is this,” she said, responding to digs from opposition benches in the Lok Sabha over industrialist Rahul Bajaj’s recent statement.

Bajaj had alleged that investment had taken a beating in view of what he described as a vitiated atmosphere in the country over the past five years. That comment was described by many on social media and the Congress as an instance of speaking truth to power.

Sitharaman suggested the government was all for industry leaders speaking out. The minister said the government listened to criticism. “Let more speak,” she said, adding that if there was a government that listens, “it is PM Narendra Modi’s government”.

The minister said she had been called the “worst finance minister” before she could complete even six months and had been called names even in Parliament. Just a few hours earlier, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had told her that he should call her “Nirbala [weak] Sitharaman instead of Nirmala Sitharaman”.

The criticism blunted, the minister switched to offensive mode and took a swipe at Congress leaders for routinely levelling allegations but staging a walk out when it was her time to respond.

“If it is in anyone’s DNA to ask questions and run away before answers are given, it is some other party and not our party. Each time we come to give replies instead of name-calling,” she told the Lok Sabha during the discussion on the law to slash corporate tax. The government had earlier reduced the tax via an ordinance.

Sitharaman pointed to the ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ barb that would be hurled at the BJP to claim that it acted only for the rich. “We’re told that lowering corporate tax helps only rich. I want to tell them that corporate tax cut helps all small and big businesses registered according to the Companies Act,” she said.

© Himanshu Bhatt/NurPhoto via Getty Images

She also hit out at the Congress for attempting to claim credit for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to stay out of the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

“Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that the government had finally listened to Sonia Gandhi’s advice. But I don’t know if the Congress heard her advice when the Bali agreement was signed in 2013” that would have hurt interests of farmers,” the minister said.

The darts continued when she listed the crores of people who had benefited because of various decisions taken by the Modi government. “Who were they… not a brother or Jija (brother-in-law) of our party,” she said.

“In our party, there are no jijas, only workers,” she said.

She also countered the Congress on the GDP and fiscal deficit figures, saying the fiscal deficit during the NDA government’s tenure had been well before 4 per cent unlike the situation in UPA-2. Sitharaman also responded to advice from the opposition that she should consult her predecessors in the finance ministry, pointing that she did meet Pranab Mukherjee and Dr Manmohan Singh before the July budget.

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