Amid attack by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs on industrialist Rahul Bajaj in the Lok Sabha on Monday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the House her government is open to suggestions and criticisms from industrialists.
The FM said it was “unfair to say that government is not willing to listen to criticism”. Sitharaman, however, said that she stands by her comment that industrialist Rahul Bajaj should have sought answers from the government rather than spreading his own impressions which, on gaining traction, can hurt national interest.
“I have been told that I am the worst finance minister. They are not even waiting for me to finish my term. I ask them to give me more ideas, and we will work on it. If there's a government that listens, it is PM Modi's government,” she said, bemoaning how she started to face criticism even when she was just few months into her current job.
During the debate on the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, opposition MPs, including Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)’s Supriya Sule, flagged the concerns that Bajaj had raised at an event on Saturday.
Participating in the debate, BJP MP Ajay Misra ‘Teni’, who represents Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, alleged that a sugar factory that Bajaj runs, which is located in his constituency, owes millions of rupees in unpaid dues to sugarcane farmers.
Several opposition MPs, including Sule and BSP’s Danish Ali, pointed out that the two Bajajs, the one who made the comments on Saturday and the one who runs the sugar factory, might be members of the extended Bajaj family, but are not the same.
They said Rahul Bajaj, or his business group, does not run the Kheri sugar factory.
However, that did not stop Misra from continuing to make allegations and he charged opposition members of doing chamchagiri, or sycophancy, of the industrialist.
For the record, Bajaj Hindusthan Sugar Limited is run by Kushagra Bajaj.
Earlier in the day, Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar Shaw came out in support of Bajaj. She tweeted: “Madam we are neither anti-national nor anti-government. We want you to succeed big time as fastest growing economy n rise to the top of the global league of economies. I am a proud apolitical national and only want the government to promote good policies including at state level.”
Shaw had earlier said the government treated Indian industry as “pariahs” and doesn't want to hear any criticism of the economy. In her speech, Sitharaman referred to comments by Shaw.
The FM did not mention Shaw by name, but said she has read what the businesswoman has had to say on the issue, and that Shaw had attacked her earlier as well.
In her speech, Sitharaman rejected allegations that the BJP-led government favours only a few select industrialists in the country. She said that unlike the Congress-led UPA government, the Modi government worked for the people and not just somebody’s jija, or brother-in-law, a reference to Robert Vadra. “There are no jijas in our party, only party workers,” Sitharaman said.
The FM slammed Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for saying that it would be more apt to address her as Nirbala Sitharaman. Sitharaman said no woman minister in the Modi cabinet is powerless.
“Women have been given good portfolios in this government. I am Nirmala, shall remain Nirmala, and because of my party and the Prime Minister, all of us are sabala,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Congress took to social media to ridicule BJP MP Nishikant Dubey for his comments during the debate in the Lok Sabha that GDP as a tool to measure economic growth had not relevance.