• Let us see who buys BPCL, that will give a clue where the scandal lies: P Chidambaram

    Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday trained his guns at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his silence on economic slowdown and termed the government an “incompetent manager of the economy”. He also described the disinvestment of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) as a “scandal”.

    Chidambaram also said that the Congress will oppose the Citizenship Amendment Bill and that he supports the protests of the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the IIMC and other institutions over the proposed fee hike.

    Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters, a day after his release from Tihar Jail on bail, he, however, refused to comment on his case, only saying that the order would clear the “many layers of dust” that have settled on the understanding of criminal law and the manner in which it had been administered by the courts.

    Targetting the government over the slowdown, he said: “The government is an incompetent manager of the economy.”

    Hitting out at Modi over his silence on the economic slowdown, the senior Congress leader said: “The Prime Minister has been unusually silent on the economy. He has left it to his ministers to indulge in bluff and bluster.”

    He also charged the government with making mistakes, saying it believed that the problems faced by the economy were “cyclical” even after seven months into the current financial year.

    “It is wrong. Let me repeat, the government is wrong and they are wrong because they are clueless,” he said, adding that the government was unable to look for the obvious clues because it is “stubborn and mulish” in “defending its catastrophic mistakes like demonetisation, a flawed GST, tax terrorism, regulatory overkill, protectionism, and centralised control of decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office”.

    According to the Congress leader, the previous UPA dispensation had lifted 14 crore people out of poverty between 2004-2014, while the NDA had pushed millions of people below the poverty line since 2016.

    Stressing that every number pointed in the direction of a floundering economy, he said that the economy can be brought out of the slowdown but this government was incapable of doing it.

    “We will be lucky to end the year if growth touches 5 per cent. Please remember (former Chief Economic Adviser) Arvind Subramanian’s caution that 5 per cent under this government, because of suspect methodology, is not really 5 per cent but less by about 1.5 per cent,” Chidambaram said.

    To a question over the government’s plans to disinvest many Public Sector Units (PSUs) like BPCL, he said: “BPCL is a scandal. My colleague Jairam Ramesh pointed it out some months ago. By asking one PSU to buy another PSU is accounting manoeuvring. Government coffers are full and it doesn’t make any difference to me, the organisation or the company or the economy. Let us see who buys BPCL, that will give a clue where the scandal lies.”

    Attacking Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman over her remarks on onions, he said: “This shows the mindset of the government.”

    He was referring to Sitharaman’s remarks in Parliament on Wednesday where she said that she does not eat onions and garlic. Questioning the delay in procuring onions, he said: “They should have planned in advance. What’s the point of importing now?”

    The former Finance Minister also said that he supports students of JNU and IIMC in “their protest against the steep hike in their hostel and educational fees”.

    To a question over the government ending Special Protection Group (SPG) protection to the Gandhi family, Chidambaram said: “That is a cost the government has to bear. The Gandhis were extremely graceful over the decision and said ‘It’s fine, its your decision’.”

    To a question on industrialist Rahul Bajaj, who had told Union Home Minister Amit Shah if people were scared to criticise the government, he said: “There is fear everywhere. Media also gripped with fear.”

    On the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, Chidambaram said: “My first thoughts upon my release were with the Kashmiri people who have been denied their basic freedoms since August 4, 2019 – the day before the Constitution’s Article 370 conferring the region special status was removed.

    “I intend to visit Jammu and Kashmir, if the government allows me to do so,” he said.

    Chidambaram was released on Wednesday evening after spending 106 days in connection with INX Media case. He was arrested on August 21 by the CBI from his residence after a 24-hour-long drama. He was also arrested by the ED in connection with the money laundering probe.

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