Face-off over state of economy: Nirmala hits back at Manmohan

Responding to Dr Manmohan Singh’s assertion that the Modi-led NDA government should stop blaming its rivals for the economic crisis facing the country and must instead focus on finding solutions, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday (October 18) said that recalling when and what went wrong during a certain period is absolutely necessary.

“I respect Dr Manmohan Singh for telling me not to do the blame game. But recalling when and what went wrong during a certain period is absolutely necessary to put it in context, now that I’m being charged that there’s no narrative at all about the economy,” Sitharaman told a group of Indian reporters.

“She said that the government listens and responds. If it is to be stated as to why in some areas there are difficulties, the government of the day has to recall as to what went wrong,” Sitharaman said.

The finance minister said while recalling what went wrong, it certainly pertains to a period in which Manmohan Singh was prime minister and Raghuram Rajan, the RBI Governor.

“I had to recall that. So, it’s not so much with the sense of wanting to put the blame on somebody,” Sitharaman said.

Also read | Despite IMF projections, India still among fastest growing economies: Nirmala

“I don’t need to put the blame. It is more than apparent as to when the wrongdoings happened in banks and which is the government which is spending time to clear the clog from public sector banks and which is the government which is pursuing all those who have taken money during the UPA government and who’ve gone out to the country out of fear that action is being taken now under this government,” she said.

Sitharaman said she respects Manmohan Singh for telling her not to do the blame game, but recalling when and what went wrong during a certain period is absolutely necessary to put it in context.

“India under the present government will become a $5 trillion economy as transparent measures and policies are being implemented,” she said.

This will be possible as loans cannot be taken from banks on phone, Sitharaman said, taking a dig at the previous UPA dispensation. The government doesn’t support crony capitalism and this is part of the narrative on the economy, she said.

“I would want to mix both my narrative together with stating what went wrong earlier. I wished the Congress had the courage of conviction to hear it,” Sitharaman said.

“We never committed mistakes and corruption. We’ve not given any loans to cronies. We’ve never supported any wrongdoing and looked at the way when as prime minister, I would want to again recall the number of corruption cases which had happened during the UPA. Has there been anyone here (under NDA)? she asked.

These are not lessons learned. These are the present government’s convictions. Lessons have to be learned by people who should have learnt it even earlier, Sitharaman said.

Also read | Stop blaming UPA for economic crisis, Manmohan responds to FM

“I have no reason to doubt that Rajan feels for every word of what he is saying. And I’m here today, giving him his due respect, but also placing the fact before you that Indian public sector banks did not have the worst phase than when the combination of Singh and Rajan, as prime minister and the RBI Governor, had. At that time, none of us knew about it,” she had said.

Sitharaman told the group of Indian reporters on Thursday that her remarks in New York was an answer to a question. The question was in parts taken out of the speech made by Rajan and it had three components to it, she said.

The quote referred to what the former RBI governor had said about a centralised leadership and the absence of a coherent narrative of the economy, Sitharaman claimed.

“I also understand there’s already in India lots of discussion about the finance minister being out of the country and how could she talk about issues that are essentially to be spoken within the country.”

“These taken on board, I would still say that was an answer given to a question which read a quotation from the speech of the former Reserve Bank governor,” she said.

“Then, if a political assessment has been made, nothing stops anyone from making it and its suddenly the right and prerogative of whoever wants to make it,” the Union finance minister said.

Also read | Singh hits out, says govt unable to find solution to revive economy

She said she doesn’t feel she had crossed the line by giving a response, whether within or outside the country.

“If there is a charge against us that we have not given a cohesive narrative about the economy, I’m sorry, probably it has not even reached the narrative that were given about the economy or the target with which we are working or the response with which we are answering those stress in different parts of the country, those industries which are under stress, those messages have probably not even reached people who have commented on us,” the finance minister said.

Conceding that there were some ‘weaknesses’ in his regime, Singh had on Thursday (October 17) said the Modi government should stop blaming the UPA for every economic crisis, as five years were sufficient time to come up with solutions.

The senior Congress leader’s comments at the press conference in Mumbai came after Sitharaman at an event at the Columbia University in New York held the Manmohan Singh-Raghuram Rajan combination responsible for subjecting public sector banks (PSBs) to their “worst phase”.

Also read | Slumping economy, sponsorship blues haunt prominent lit fests this year

(With inputs from agencies)