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The fifth and last Budget of the Narendra Modi government would need to address the problem of economic growth and meet the challenge of creating jobs, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram and former deputy chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said on Tuesday.
Participating in a panel discussion after former president Pranab Mukherjee launched Chidambaram’s book, Speaking Truth to Power, a collection of his essays published in newspapers, Ahluwalia and Chidambaram disputed recent claims in a study that the Modi government created 7 million jobs. Ahluwalia termed the inferences of the study based on Employees' Provident Fund Organisation data was “flawed”.
Chidambaram said the Economic Survey was “an utter confession” that in the four years the Modi government has failed to deal with three of the biggest issues — employment, education and agriculture. He said the attempt by Pulak Ghosh, of IIM-Bangalore, and Soumya Kanti Ghosh of State Bank of India to use payroll measure was good but to extrapolate it to reach the figure that they did was flawed.
Chidambaram pointed to a recent survey by CSDS, which has brought out that the number one concern of the people of India was jobs. “If you are creating 7 million jobs, why should that be the number one concern?” he asked. The Congress leader said caste may have been a convenient mobilising tool in the agitation by Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani in Gujarat, but the “real driving force” of the agitation was “the cry for jobs”.
Ahluwalia said any announcements in the Budget of a new scheme was unlikely to make any difference on the ground, as employment was the key concern. He said the big focus of the Budget should the unemployment problem, and GDP growth in excess of 8 per cent was a prerequisite to create jobs.
To a question on the PM’s push for simultaneous polls, Chidambaram termed it as another "election jumla" (gimmick) by the Modi government, saying it cannot be done under the current constitutional provisions. Chidambaram said the Constitution of India does not give a fixed term to any government and unless it is amended, one cannot have simultaneous elections. “This is another of this election jumla. One nation, one tax was a jumla. Now one nation, one election is a jumla," he said in reply to a question.
Chidambaram said one can artificially construct the appearance of a simultaneous election by advancing some elections and postponing some, and one could hold parliamentary election and elections to five or six states, but not in all the 30 states. "What if a government falls tomorrow? Will you put it under President's rule for four years? It can't be done," he said. To a question from Shehzad Poonawala on if Rahul Gandhi was best suited to be lead the Congress, Chidambaram advised him to stop being judgemental.
Chidambaram said he had no doubt, and without being judgemental, nine out of 10 congress workers in any part of India will want him as their leader. “I want him to succeed, He will succeed and almost succeeded in Gujarat, wait for Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan,” he said.
In his speech at the launch of the book, Mukherjee said the Opposition, by disrupting proceedings of Parliament, not only betrayed the people who have elected them, but provided "a helping hand" to the government by scuttling the opposition space.
Mukherjee lauded the former finance minister for doing what an opposition leader should do — speak the truth on behalf of the people. "I do feel, particularly the opposition space, is hit more when Parliament is disrupted. And, in one way or another, instead of opposing the government, it serves some sort of a helping hand to the government of the day," he said.
Mukherjee said he and Chidambaram have been colleagues in the Congress and have spent their political careers under some common prime ministers starting with P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, who was present in the audience.
He said both of them have shared their views at party platforms with fellow Congressmen, but "it is not always that we agree". "But that is the beauty of democracy. It is that it has enough space to accommodate all views, all the opinions. That is why he has assumed to speak the truth on behalf of the people who do not see 'eye to eye' with the policies of the policy-makers of the day," he said.
Participating in the discussion, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the Congress narrative to counter BJP’s communal politics would be to ask people whether they have got their promised ‘achhe din’, or better days. He said that Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat, by visiting temples, took that issue out of the equation, and focused on economic issues.