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Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha delivered a blistering criticism of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over the state of the economy, prompting a sharp rebuttal from the government on Wednesday and fresh salvos by the Congress at what it called a "clueless" Centre.
The attack by Sinha, who was finance minister under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government, in a newspaper article set off a political storm even as two top union ministers--Rajnath Singh and Piyush Goyal--defended the economic situation, asserting the Indian economy is the fastest growing in the world.
As the Congress latched on to Sinha's criticism, the government also said it will "stay the course" and that it would work to transform the economy.
In the article headlined "I need to speak up now" in today's edition of The Indian Express, Sinha, 84, criticised Jaitley over the "mess the finance minister has made of the economy" and said he would be failing in his national duty if he did not speak up.
"Finance ministry, in the best of times, calls for the undivided attention of its boss if the job has to be properly done. In challenging times it becomes more than a 24/7 job. Naturally, even a superman like Jaitley could not do justice to the task," he wrote, as he slammed the government over decisions like note ban and the GST, the new universal tax regime.
Sinha, a member of the BJPs 'margdarshak mandal' that was set up in 2014 to guide the party, also said a revival by the time of the next Lok Sabha elections due in 2019 was "highly unlikely" and a "hard landing" appeared inevitable.
"The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working over-time to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters," Sinha further said.
Rejecting Sinha's criticism, the government insisted that Indian economy is the fastest growing in the world and some "uncertainty" is bound to occur when "transformative" measures like demonetisation and the GST are taken.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the country's credibility has been established in the international arena under the Modi government.
"The whole world admits that India is the fastest growing economy in the world. No one should forget this fact. In the matter of economy, in the international arena, India's credibility has been established," he told reporters while making a reference to Sinha's criticism.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said the government would not flinch due to some criticism and that it would "stay the course" as it works to transform the economy.
Goyal, who has often articulated the party's view on the economy, said Sinha is entitled to his opinion.
"There is bound to be some uncertainty when some transformative changes are made. It (economy) may take some amount of time to absorb these changes but this will pass. Challenges come but we will stay the course. The government is steadfast in its resolve to end black money and corruption. It won't flinch due to some criticism," he said.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi took a dig at Jaitley, saying people should take positions as the "wings have fallen off our plane" while his party colleague and former finance minister P Chidambaram asked the "clueless" Centre how long it would hide behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "rhetoric and party slogans."
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your copilot and FM speaking. Please fasten your seat belts and take brace position. The wings have fallen off our plane," Gandhi tweeted.
Ladies & Gentlemen, this is your copilot & FM speaking. Plz fasten your seat belts & take brace position.The wings have fallen off our plane https://t.co/IsOA8FQa6u— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) September 27, 2017
Addressing a small gathering near Chotila in Surendranagar district in poll-bound Gujarat, Gandhi also cited the article to attack Jaitley and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a tweet, Chidambaram asked whether "power" would now accept the truth.
"Yashwant Sinha speaks truth to power. Will power now admit the truth that economy is sinking?," he said on Twitter.
Yashwant Sinha speaks Truth to Power. Will Power now admit the Truth that economy is sinking?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) September 27, 2017
Later talking to reporters, Chidambaram said the Congress was told to shut up when it flagged the weaknesses in the economy. But the party would continue to speak "loudly and boldly on the disastrous path" the government has taken, he added.
"The government is completely clueless about what is causing the economic decline...how long will it hide behind the rhetoric of the prime minister and the slogans of the party?" he asked.
Responding to a question, Chidambaram said the Congress was not using Sinha's views (politically), and added that the BJP leader's statements only "coincides" with what the opposition party has been saying.
Delhi's ruling AAP said the current condition of Indian economy is a matter of national concern and not a party specific issue. "It is because the individuals running the Central Government have little understanding of economic policies," AAP leader and Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia told reporters.