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Govt clueless on how to tackle economic slowdown, FM statement on onion shows their mindset: Chidambaram
New Delhi: Addressing the first press conference after his release from Tihar jail on bail, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday launched a no holds barred attack against the Narendra Modi government on its handling of the Indian economy, and said the government is "clueless" and "incapable of pulling Indian economy out of slowdown".

Mr Chidambaram was released on Wednesday night after 106 days in custody, after the Supreme Court granted him bail on the INX Media case.

Taking on the Modi government, while speaking at AICC headquarters, the former Finance Minister said that the government is calling the present slowdown ‘cyclical’ and added that "thank god they have not called it ‘seasonal’. It is ‘structural’ and the government has no solutions or reforms that would address the structural problems".

Responding to a question over the onion price hike and the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's remarks, Mr Chidambaram said, "what is the point of importing the onions now, when it will arrive? But if the Finance Minister says 'I don't eat onion', that shows the mindsets of the government".

Referring to the Indian economy, he said that the place to start is diagnosis.

"If the diagnosis is wrong, the prescription will be useless, may be even fatal. Even after 7 months into the fiscal year, the BJP government believes that the problems faced by the economy are cyclical. The government is wrong. It is wrong because it is clueless", Mr Chidambaram added.

He said that he will talk to the 'wrong policies' of the Modi government, "in the days to come, I shall speak, give interviews and write elaborately on each of them".

Taking on Mr Modi, the former Finance Minister said that 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 (Magazine) put it, is that the government has turned out to be an ‘incompetent manager’ of the economy", he added.

"GDP is irrelevant, personal income tax must be cut, customs duty must be increased, this is the way to make India strong, this is BJP's idea of reforms. If these are the BJP's idea of reforms, God saves this country", the senior Congress leader further said.

Pointing out to the GDP rate for last six quarters, Mr Chidambaram said "nothing sums up the state of the economy better than the numbers as 8, 7, 6.6, 5.8, 5 and 4.5".

"Those are the quarterly growth rates of GDP in the last six quarters. The third and fourth quarters of 2019-20 are not likely to be any better. We will be lucky to end the year if growth touches 5 per cent. And please remember Dr 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", he said.

Stating the reason for the economic slowdown was incompetence and ignorance, Mr Chidambaram said that the government is going to face a huge fiscal deficit.

"It will be so huge. The only way they can fill the gap that either to sell so-called strategic assets, or to raid the RBI once again. They have already raid RBI once and got away with money", he charged,
Responding to a question on disinvestment of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), the former Union Minister said that it is a scandal.

"One PSU buying another another PSU is an accounting maneuver," he said and added that "the company that buys the BPCL will give you the clue about where the scandal lies."

Taking names of former RBI governors Raghuram Rajan and Urjit Patel, former Niti Aayog Chief Arvind Panagarhiya and former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, Mr Chidambaram said that nobody in the government can understand the difference between 'cyclical' and 'structural' and added that "they banished the people who understood the difference".

Referring to the recent statement made by businessman Rahul Baja, the senior Congress leader also said that there is a complete fear everywhere, and the media is no exception and is "gripped by fear".

"The economy can be brought out of the slowdown, but this government is 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 added.

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