Think before you speak

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By : Rajeev Sharma

Narendra Modi perhaps continues to be in a poll campaign mode even after becoming India’s prime minister!

Otherwise what explains his strange remark, made in Panaji (Goa) on June 14, wherein he accused the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of leaving the national coffers empty?

Modi made the following remark: “I have taken over reins of the country in circumstances where there is nothing left behind by the previous government. They left everything empty. The country’s financial health has hit the bottom.”

When the premier makes a remark like that one expects that he would have spoken on the basis of facts. But in this case the facts are much different. Obviously Modi would have known that the Congress party would react. But it did not; at least for first five days. On June 20, however, Congress leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram came up with facts and figures blowing Modi’s arguments into smithereens and accusing the previous BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of leaving a mess for the UPA government (2004-14).

Till date there is no rejoinder to Chidambaram’s counter claims. One can draw one’s own conclusions in this regard. But one should not jump the gun and give some more time to the government to defend and elaborate on Modi’s remarks. After all, the Congress also took six days to counter Modi’s claims.

Chidambaram asked four pithy questions from the premier and his government as follows:

1. Did the prime minister refer to the cash balance of the government?

2. Did the PM refer to the foreign exchange reserves? (However, in this context, it must be pointed out that the foreign exchange reserves do not belong to the government, a fact that Modi was perhaps unaware of till Chidambaram pointed it out.)

3. Did the PM refer to the outstanding liabilities of the central government?

4. What did the premier mean when he said, “There is nothing left behind”?
On behalf of the Congress party and the UPA government, he provided detailed answers to each of his four questions. Sample his answers.

1. The opening cash balance on June 1, 2004, just after the NDA government demitted office, was negative about $453 million at current exchange rates. In contrast, the opening cash balance on June 1, 2014, just after the UPA government demitted office, $44 billion.

2. Here too, at the end of 2003-04, just before the UPA government assumed office, the foreign exchange reserves stood at $113 billion. In contrast, at the end of 2013-14, just before the Modi-led NDA government assumed office, the reserves stood at $304 billion. At the end of May 31, 2014, the reserves stood at $312 billion.

3. Chidambaram agreed with Modi’s implicit (and unsaid) contention that the government has high debt but pointed out that the Indian government has always had liabilities, which include public debt and other liabilities, since 1950-51. Importantly, he stressed that it was no different when the NDA was in office between 1998 and 2004, and it was no different when the UPA was in office between 2004 and 2014. The old fox turned in the knife by cleverly predicting that it will be no different during the period of the Modi government.

4. Chidambaram reeled out further statistics to drive home his point that the UPA government left the country with a much healthier economy and development parameters which the Modi government is failing to acknowledge. He reminded Modi that the UPA left behind 243,000 MW of installed power capacity, 207 million tons of petroleum refining capacity, coal and lignite production raised to 562 million tones, steel production to 82.2 million tones, fertilizer production to 36.5 million tons and cement production to 25.6 million tons.

Chidambaram also said the UPA left behind a farm sector that produced 263 million tons of food grain last year, a stock of 34.4 million tons of wheat and 28.4 million tons of rice on May 1, 2014, apart from a network of 389,578 kilometers of rural roads built under a central government scheme.

Over and above everything else, Chidambaram argued, the UPA left behind an economy where the fiscal deficit has been reduced, the current account deficit has been sharply contained, and a clear path of fiscal consolidation has been laid out.

At the end of it all, it must be said that though the UPA 2 government was bogged down with a large number of corruption scandals and nationwide street agitations of social activist Anna Hazare and his the then confidante, Arvind Kejriwal, for latter half of the tenure, these factors got compounded by the global economic recession.

The previous NDA government did not have to undergo such global economic tumults. For example, during the NDA regime the crude oil prices did not rise beyond $32 a barrel while the UPA government had to deal with international oil prices skyrocketing and there was a time when the crude prices touched $147 a barrel.

While this writer does not hold brief on behalf of any political party, the least that can be expected from the PM of India is that he double checks his facts before he starts shooting off his mouth. After all, general elections are long over and Modi should mind his statements, as he is now the premier. The least Modi can do now is to give his government’s take on the points raised by Chidambaram.

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The writer is a New Delhi-based independent journalist and a political commentator who tweets @Kishkindha.

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