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FM wants curbs on gold imports to stay

Says personal view is Congress should project its prime ministerial candidate for general elections

Press Trust Of India  |  New Delhi 

P Chidambaram

Notwithstanding the likelihood of the current account deficit (CAD) narrowing to less than $50 billion, Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Monday made a case for continuing with some kind of restriction on gold imports.

"I think there should be some restraint on gold imports. We should also attempt to discover more gold in our own country," he said in an interview to CNBC-TV18.

Referring to a recent Supreme Court judgment on auction of all closed mines, he said the mines ministry should sell "the so-called closed mines because there are persons around the world who have met me and said, 'give us the mines and we would be able to extract gold'." He said, "As a proposition, restraining gold imports is a correct move."

However, some experts, including RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, have favoured doing away with curbs on gold imports because they lead to smuggling. Both the government and the RBI had imposed several restrictions on gold imports to check the widening CAD, which according to Chidambaram, "will be lower than $50 billion" this financial year.

The CAD touched an all-time high of $88.2 billion, or 4.8 per cent of GDP, in 2012-13 because of various factors, including rising gold imports. The minister also reiterated the government's commitment to restrict the fiscal deficit to 4.8 per cent of GDP in the year ending March 2014.

On another issue, Chidambaram said the Congress should project its prime ministerial candidate for the general elections next year.

"...In my view, the party should project a person as the leader of the party who will become prime minister if the party forms the government. That is my view, but it is for the party to decide," he said in an interview to a television channel.

In today's parliamentary and state elections, voters tend to ask who is the leader. "That is something that I have observed over the last 15-20 years," he said, adding that in many state elections, there had been a direct contest between chief ministerial candidates of party A or party B. "We have seen this for nearly 30 years or more in Tamil Nadu."

While the Bharatiya Janata Party had named Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate in September, there has been criticism that the Congress has been reticent about naming its nominee.

On the day the Assembly poll results came, party chief Sonia Gandhi said the party would announce its prime ministerial candidate at an opportune time. There are speculations that Congress would at the AICC meeting on January 17 declare Vice-President Rahul Gandhi the party's Prime Ministerial candidate.

Responding to a question on the blog of BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi on Gujarat riots, Chidambaram said he had hoped that the Gujarat CM would tender an apology for the 2002 riots.

"I thought he is going to utter one word, which thousand of people are expecting he will, the word apology. He uttered some of the words even I don't know. But he did not use the word apology. I think it is good to feel your own pain but I think he should have felt the pain of 2000 families who lost their loved ones," he said.

In his recent blog, Modi spoke of "pain" and "anguish" over the 2002 Gujarat riots but did not proffer any apology over the killings.

Chidambaram said Modi should have "felt the pain" of Zakia Jafri who lost her husband in the riots. "He should have felt the pain of all those who were burnt alive in that (Housing) Society. And I don't think he has reached out and touched the heart of those who suffered post Godhra 2002," he said.

Asked about the clean chit given to him by an Ahmedabad court, the finance minister said the issue was not limited to committing a crime but ministerial responsibility. "I am not talking about crime. I am talking about moral responsibility for what happened post Godhra. Please remember, more than once, the Congress party, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi have apologised for what happened in 1984. I think the difference between an apology and other words he used is known to anyone who follows what he tries to say."

Rejecting suggestions that Modi was now unbeatable, he said "nobody is unbeatable, everybody has strengths and weaknesses. In 2004, many of you said Mr (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee is unbeatable and 2009 many commentators said Mr Manmohan Singh government will be defeated. So what would happen in election, nobody can say."

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First Published: Tue, December 31 2013. 00:48 IST