New Delhi: Launching a blistering attack on the government a day after stepping out of jail, Congress leader P Chidambaram on Thursday alleged that the government is "clueless" about the economy and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has 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 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.
He only said the "clear and comprehensive" Supreme Court order, granting him bail in a money laundering case connected to INX Media on Wednesday, will clear the "many layers of dust" settled on the understanding of criminal law and the manner in which criminal law has been administered by the courts.
"In the last 106 days, I was strong in spirit and I have become stronger because...my record as minister and my conscience are absolutely clear," he told a packed room of journalists.
"Officers who have worked with me, business persons who have interacted with me and journalists who have observed me know that very well. My family trusts in God. We have total confidence that the courts will, ultimately, render justice," Chidambaram said.
Discussing the economy, Chidambaram said the prescription will be useless if the diagnosis is 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 GST, 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 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 is 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 UPA dispensation lifted 14 crore people out of poverty between 2004-2014, while the NDA 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.
"I believe the Congress and some other parties are better equipped to pull the economy out of the slowdown and push economic growth, but we have to wait for better times," the former finance minister said.
On BJP MP Nishikant Dubey remarks that the the 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 appeared to turn emotional when asked about the recent instances of rape and said, "There is complete breakdown of law and order in many parts of India."
He began his press conference with a reference to Kashmir.
Chidambaram 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".
He added in a lighter vein that sleeping on a wooden board, without a pillow strengthens the neck, spine and back.
The former minister also expressed his sympathies for students protesting against fees hike in universities such as JNU and IIMC.