In what Headlines Today is calling ‘The Great Face Off’, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley debated his predecessor in UPA govt, P Chidambaram at Rajdeep Sardesai’s book launch event in Delhi. The debate was telecast by Headlines Today.
Moderated by Karan Thapar, the debate saw some very interesting points being raised by both politicians. Both seemed comfortable discussing critical economic issues facing the country, while occasionally taking humorous jabs at each other.
Thapar started off by referring to Rajdeep Sardesai’s book which compares 2014 elections to the 1952 and 1977 elections. This election moved the centre of gravity from identity politics to aspirational politics, writes Sardesai in his book.
Jaitley said it is substantially correct as a trend of coalition politics had started to emerge and it was felt that the age of tall leaders and tall majorities was over. Social and caste distinctions were completely unimportant in the 2014 Elections.
On the question of the 2014 elections eliminating the Nehruvian Consensus and (referring to PM Modi abolishing the Planning Commission) , Chidambaram said, “Try as they might, I doubt if they can completely demolish the Consensus.” Although he did agree that things have to be redefined from time to time. Jaitley said that certain issues of the past may not be relevant today, so one has to evolve a new kind of policy emphasis in those areas.
Thapar quoted from the book where Chidambaram had told him that though the economy destroyed them, had it been on the right track, nothing would have mattered. He said that the results may have been different had the economy been in better shape, but said he concedes that the BJP still may have been the No. 1 party.
Sardesai contested in the debate that due to corruption, scandals and retrospective tax the UPA govt was already in ICU in 2011-2012 and that Manmohan Singh said he didn’t even know about retrospective tax till the day of the budget. Thapar and Sardesai repeatedly asked Chidambaram if the then PM knew about it, to which PC said budget proposals are between the Fin Min and PM, and jokingly said “what I know, I will reveal when I write my book,” a statement that drew hordes of laughter from the audience.
Jaitley reconfirmed to Thapar that the economy that he had inherited was challenging or ‘in a shambles’, and India had fallen off the global radar.
About the retrospective tax (which Jaitley said was the defining moment of doom) and the PM not being aware of it, Jaitley said that every budget proposal has to be discussed more than once with the PM, implying that Singh was aware of it.
When Chidambaram said even in 2004, the economy was in a shambles, Jaitley quickly interjected that ‘We left behind 8.4% growth rate.’ To which Chidambaram said it was an average rate of 5.5%
Thapar questioned the different approach BJP takes in terms of politics and economy, where they believe in politics “Sky is the Limit” but in economy they believe “Reform is the art of the possible” and why the Modi gov is not as bold in its economic reforms.
Jaitley explained that some are second generation reforms, some are easily implementable, some need larger consensus and some are difficult to implement in the real politik of the country. But the agenda is full as of now and certain reforms that may cause confrontations in the society will be applied at a later stage.
While Jaitley said that people are not feeling let down about the economic reforms, Chidambaram said he was feeling let down as this is for the first time in 30 years a party has majority seats and now is the time to take hard decisions. With 282 seats, Jaitley could have reversed retrospective taxation, said Chidambaram.
Jaitley responded in a lighter vein saying: “In the last year when it was becoming evident BJP would form the next govt, I had expected Chidambaram to clean up his own mess.”
Jaitley assured that the investors are now flocking back and have the confidence that the govt is doggedly pursuing economic reforms.
Jaitley defended Modi and Gujarat govt with respect to 2002 riots, when Sardesai admitted that he himself got the impression after research that VHP and Praveen Togadia were more in power during the riots and Modi was only newly appointed as CM. Chidambaram defended Rahul Gandhi when he was referred to as a “9 to 5 politician and a dilettante.”
Social media has responded with considerable buzz on the clash of the two titans.
Here are some tweets
You can watch the debate here