P Chidambaram, addressing his first press conference after being released from jail on bail, didn't waste time in taking on the government on the state of the economy and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been "unusually silent" on the slump. He also called the government "wrong, stubborn and mulish" in defending "catastrophic" mistakes. "The government is making mistakes. It is wrong. Let me repeat, the government is wrong and they are wrong because they are clueless," said the former finance minister, who spent 106 days in prison, mostly in Delhi's Tihar jail.
"The Prime Minister 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," said Mr Chidambaram, who tweeted through his family regularly on the economy.
He said the government was unable to look for the obvious clues "because it is stubborn and mulish in defending its catastrophic mistakes like demonetisation, flawed GST, tax terrorism, regulatory overkill, protectionism, and centralized control of decision-making in the PMO."
"Nothing sums up the state of the economy better than the following series of numbers: 8, 7, 6.6, 5.8, 5 and 4.5. Those are the quarterly growth rates of GDP in the last six quarters. We will be lucky to end the year if growth touches 5%," Mr Chidambaram told reporters at the Congress headquarters.
He said every number pointed in the direction of a floundering economy. The economy can be brought out of the slowdown but this government, he said, was in denial and "incapable" of doing that. "I believe that 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," he remarked.
Mr Chidambaram was granted bail by the Supreme Court yesterday on conditions that include not making public statements or speaking to the press about the INX Media case for which he was jailed. He mostly commented today on the economy but did mention he had a "clear record as a minister".
The former union minister was arrested on August 21 by the CBI. The agency is investigating allegations that in 2007, Mr Chidambaram as finance minister facilitated a huge infusion of foreign funds into the company INX Media. The Enforcement Directorate arrested him on October 16 in connection with money-laundering allegations linked to the case.