New Delhi: Yashwant Sinha, former finance minister, says that if Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes he is among a group of habitual nay-sayers, "why do you take notice of us?" Speaking to ndtv.com today, Mr Sinha, who is a member of the ruling BJP, said that he has evidence that his white-hot criticism of the government's economic policies has landed with force. "If we are only spreading pessimism, then why was there a cut in excise duty on fuel and why is the GST Council in a huddle today?" he asked.
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Two days ago, PM Modi, reacting to Mr Sinha's negative review, said "a handful of people are bent on spreading pessimism" and defended the health of the economy, stating that too much was being made of the last quarter's growth slumping to 5.7 per cent, which is a three-year low.
But earlier this week, the government cut excise duty on petrol and diesel by two rupees a litre to protect retail consumers from higher global crude oil prices and today, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is meeting his counterparts from states to discuss what changes are needed to mitigate the cash crunch and other stresses caused by the new GST or national sales tax.
Mr Sinha and Arun Shourie, who was his cabinet colleague when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister, have blamed Mr Jaitley for adapting economic policies that have caused a downturn. "He's a poor performer," Mr Sinha said today.
In response to Mr Sinha's criticism, first unleashed in an opinion piece last week, Mr Jaitley said that he doesn't have "the luxury as yet of being a former finance minister" and described Mr Sinha as "an 80-year-old job applicant".
The former finance minister today said that BJP chief Amit Shah plays an unduly large role in deciding economic policies. "Although there's a cabinet committee on political affairs and economic affairs where several other ministers are a part (of it), no one's called . It's a question of propriety as to how the party president 's directly involved in the running of government and taking major decisions." Referring to Mr Shah abandoning a tour of Kerala to meet with the PM and Finance Minister in Delhi last evening, Mr Sinha continued, "He's part of official discussions which is in clear cut deviation of past practices and that's why the opposition criticizes the government."
The PM said in his lengthy defense of his government's economic record on Wednesday that the 5.7% growth of the first quarter of this year is an outlier that will soon be corrected; he said during the previous Congress-led government, economic growth was at or below the same rate on eight different occasions. "Your mandate is not to preside over the fall in the economy and, when asked (about it), to point accusing fingers at your predecessor. In the next elections, you will be judged on your performance and promises which you made."
The government says that the economy will soon recover; among the ministers who've said critics are missing the likely impact of structural reforms like the GST is Jayant Sinha, who is Mr Sinha's son. When asked if his clash with the PM could damage his son's prospects, Mr Sinha said, "I am not at all worried, and if he's victimised and penalised for my views, then it's poor judgement of those who will take such a step."