NDA govt will doggedly pur­sue re­forms, says Jait­ley

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - FRONT PAGE - HT Cor­re­spon­dent let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

It was a rare evening when fi­nance min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley and his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, P Chi­dambaram, came to­gether to can­didly re­flect on the 2014 elec­tions, Congress’ mis­takes, BJP’s suc­cesses, and the state of the econ­omy.

Among other is­sues, Jait­ley said the gov­ern­ment would “doggedly pur­sue re­forms” – but made it clear that the eas­ier ones to im­ple­ment would hap­pen first. Chi­dambaram im­plored the NDA to re­verse ret­ro­spec­tive tax­a­tion in­tro­duced by his own gov­ern­ment, and said that UPA should have can­celled the 2G li­cences on its own with­out wait­ing for a court or­der.

The oc­ca­sion was the launch of se­nior tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist and HT colum­nist Ra­jdeep Sardesai’s book 2014- The Elec­tion That Changed In­dia.

YOU HAVE TO SUR­VIVE TO RE­FORM. RE­FORMS WHICH ARE DIF­FI­CULT AND CAN CRE­ATE A CON­FRONTA­TION IN SO­CI­ETY…CAN HAP­PEN AT A LATER STAGE IN GOV­ERN­MENT

ARUN JAIT­LEY, fi­nance min­is­ter

Stat­ing that his agenda was clear for the next two years, Jait­ley said there was a re­newed buzz about In­dia and in­ter­na­tional in­vestors were en­thu­si­as­tic.

“We will doggedly pur­sue re­forms,” he said, but added that there were dif­fer­ent kinds of re­forms – the ones easy to im­ple­ment, the ones which needed larger con­sen­sus, and the dif­fi­cult ones within the cur­rent re­alpoli­tik frame­work.

“You have to sur­vive to re­form. Re­forms which are dif­fi­cult and can cre­ate a con­fronta­tion in so­ci­ety…can hap­pen at a later stage in gov­ern­ment.”

Jait­ley was re­spond­ing to the per­cep­tion that the gov­ern­ment was not us­ing its mas­sive po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to push early re­forms. This ap­proach, he said, was bet­ter than “pur­su­ing con­fronta­tion and then say­ing we can’t do it.”

Chi­dambaram took is­sue with the FM, and said he felt “let down” that the gov­ern­ment had not re­versed ret­ro­spec­tive tax­a­tion – which Jait­ley was quick to point out was a prob­lem of UPA’s mak­ing. “If I had 282, I would have done it,” Chi­dambaram said.

The for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter ac­cepted cer­tain things could have been done dif­fer­ently by UPA.

“On 2G, the PM could have put his foot down and said we will not al­low the first come, first served route or when the is­sue emerged, the gov­ern­ment could have can­celled li­cences.”

Chi­dambaram said he had made such a sug­ges­tion in gov­ern­ment “in­for­mally, in group and com­mit­tee meet­ings” that this would be wiser than wait­ing for the court judg­ment, which was “dam­ag­ing”.

He said that the gov­ern­ment, maybe, held back be­cause there was a per­cep­tion this may drag it into nu­mer­ous lit­i­ga­tions with li­cence hold­ers. “But I be­lieved it was a sim­ple decision...it might have con­tained the dam­age con­sid­er­ably.”

Look­ing back at the elec­tions, Jait­ley said this was a markedly dif­fer­ent poll as it re­versed the as­sump­tion that the era of tall lead­ers, of sin­gle-party ma­jori­ties was over. “Tra­di­tional trends did not work. Par­ties which re­lied on caste loy­al­ties did rea­son­ably badly. And par­ties which re­lied on charisma of lead­ers, dy­nas­ties also did badly across the coun­try.”

Chi­dambaram was also will­ing to credit the vigour of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s cam­paign. “Modi brought qual­i­ties which en­hanced the scale and mag­ni­tude of BJP’s vic­tory.”

But he said that if the UPA had been able to bring back the econ­omy on track by 2013-14, the re­sults would have been dif­fer­ent – “even though BJP would still prob­a­bly have been the big­gest party”.

“The con­sen­sus world­wide was the an­swer to the great re­ces­sion was Key­ne­sian eco­nomics, spend­ing money. We had three con­sec­u­tive stim­uli pack­ages. This breached all lim­its of fis­cal deficit, rev­enue defi- cit, in­fla­tion,” Chi­dambaram said. The gov­ern­ment had been un­able to re­cover from this pe­riod, with ad­verse global eco­nomic events mak­ing the task more dif­fi­cult, he added.

The con­ver­sa­tion, mod­er­ated by jour­nal­ist Karan Thapar, was laced with wit – when the two lead­ers traded ac­cu­sa­tions about which party had op­por­tunis­ti­cally changed their po­si­tions on rais­ing FDI in­surance caps de­pend­ing on whether they were in gov­ern­ment or op­po­si­tion; or when Chi­dambaram said that Jait­ley’s ad­vice to the CAG not to sen­sa­tion­alise had come a “bit late”.

In his wide-rang­ing book, Sardesai has doc­u­mented the im­pres­sive back­room strate­gis­ing of the Modi team as well as the PM’s en­ergy, while trac­ing the many mis­steps of the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress cam­paign.

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