Senior Congress leader and former Union minister M Veerappa Moily, who handled crucial portfolios such as corporate affairs, petroleum, law and environment in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, tells Kavita Chowdhury that the Narendra Modi-led government's first Budget is high on rhetoric and low on reforms. Edited excerpts:
You have been critical of the Railway Budget, describing it as "average", and the Budget for "having no vision."
I have studied the Budget papers in detail and found that the general Budget is high on rhetoric and short on reforms. According to the Economic Survey, the country is returning to the high-growth trajectory, but the Budget speech contradicts that because there is no road map on reforms. We expected an honest and simplified Budget but it appears the intention was only to score a point over the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), even though the Budget takes cue from the UPA programmes. Also, the idea was to revive the manufacturing sector but I find that the Budget has not given much fillip to the sector. Then, on the Goods and Services Tax (GST), why is there no timeline for its implementation when they have already indicated their intent?
When in the Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had consistently attacked the UPA, demanding reduction in subsidies. However, we find no such measures in the Budget.
If they really wanted to tackle subsidies, then they could have built it into the economic development agenda, but there is no such vision. Subsidy is not a liability. Actually, the BJP-led government appears to be confused. Earlier, it was a mixed economy, now their intention is to take it to the extreme right, but in the process they are neither here nor there. The "aam aadmi" finds no space in their scheme of things but they have coined a new term, the "neo- middle class" - that is the category they are appealing to.
The BJP has always been vocal against what it termed as "tax terrorism". So what were your expectations from this Budget on the controversial retrospective tax issue?
I totally expected (Arun) Jaitley to do away with it, withdraw it. I have always maintained that retrospective tax put the UPA government in a bad shape. I had written to the prime minister (Manmohan Singh) even then, that it was an incorrect step and created uncertainty. I can understand that Narendra Modi may not understand the implications but Jaitley knows about it. Merely restating what the government has stated in the Supreme Court takes you nowhere. He should have sent out the right message to investors. This one reform would have electrified investors. It is a complete loss of opportunity. This Budget is full of missed opportunities.
The BJP had opposed GST earlier. But now it seems the party is ready to unfurl it.
Yes. But there is no clear road map for it, they are just delaying it. The GST has been pending right from the time when Pranab Mukherjee was the finance minister. The GST issue is a big-ticket reform. The new government seems to lack the appetite for reforms. By stretching too much, Jaitley lost focus on key issues.
The Budget has projected a growth rate of 5.6-5.9 per cent. Considering that we are facing a drought and adverse monsoon, is this projection realistic?
See, there is no mention of the "monsoon" in the Budget. Seventy per cent of the monsoon has failed and there is not one word about it in the Budget. It seems the government forgot the realities of the year it was making the Budget for. It is definitely not realistic. In an effort to come up with a "please all" Budget, they have reached nowhere. Then again, the small Rs 50 crore to 100 crore schemes; these are mere tokenisms. The detailing of such schemes is best left to ministries, but the finance ministry appears to be expropriating that role. Keeping in line with Modi's style of governance, it is taking a remote-controlled approach. There is no stamp of Jaitley as finance minister on the Budget. People expected more from him.
Moving away from the Budget and onto the Congress, you were one of the main votaries for holding internal elections within the party. Now that elections have been announced, insiders admit that it will be an "eyewash", with "elections through consensus" being the norm.
Elections should not be notional. They should be used as an exercise to build the party. We need drastic action. For a long time, we have shut people out and become a captive party. Each one of us wants it to be a captive party - but that is outdated thinking. Election through consensus means no elections at all. Let us start with proper elections from the booth level, and then move to block, district, PCC level, the AICC and then the Congress Working Committee. This will offer scope for new blood to come in, ensure accountability and bring in transparency.
You had told Business Standard earlier that Rahul Gandhi should take the role of the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, but that didn't happen.
I still insist that should have happened. He has to take responsibility as the Opposition leader. It would have been better for the party on the floor of the House. But now that a new leader has been appointed, I don't want to reopen that subject.
On the Leader of Opposition issue; while the Congress is demanding the position, staking its claim on the basis of the 1977 Act, the BJP seems to be in no mood to give it. So the Congress appears to be cutting a sorry figure and begging for it.
The government and the House will suffer if they do not have a stated Leader of Opposition. The House will be rudderless because whenever there's a problem, who will the Speaker look for to reach a consensus on important issues. The Leader of Opposition is not just a decorative post.
But the BJP is citing the fact that the Congress in the past ensured there was no Leader of Opposition.
This is not a case of tit for tat. In fact, at that time, the statutory authority of the Central Information Commissioner, the Central Vigilance Commission and Lokpal did not even exist, so there was no constitutional necessity for the Leader of Opposition then. Now, things have changed. A Leader of Opposition is needed for consultation on appointment for these posts. There will be a crisis in the decision-making process. It's not embarrassing for us. Let no one think that we are clamouring for a position.
I believe you have revived your legal practice.
Now that I have more time on my hands, I have opened an office here in Delhi. I already have a Moily Associates office in Bangalore. Along with my commitments towards my constituency, I will take out time for this. I am passionate about my law practice.