Former finance minister P Chidambaram has resumed writing his weekly column for the Indian Express after the Supreme Court on Thursday granted him relief in his plea seeking bail in the INX Media money laundering case. The apex court set aside an order by the Delhi High Court order that prevented him from walking out of jail.
Chidambaram was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation on August 21 and the Enforcement Directorate on October 17. He spent 105 days in the custody of the CBI and the ED.
Chidambaram, who has served as the finance minister in four separate tenures, has been writing a column for the Indian Express since 2015, but his last column appeared in the paper on August 18, three days before his arrest. After a gap of nearly four months, his latest column was published online on December 8 with the headline “In an economy sans economists, ministers resort to ‘bluff’ and ‘bluster’.”
What he wrote
In his column Chidambaram has given a scathing assessment of the state of the Indian economy.
On GDP data
The second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth for FY19-20 has come down to 4.5 percent, according to the latest government data released on November 30. Chidambaram wrote that the GDP growth has been in a consistent decline over the past six quarters, going from 8 percent down to 4.5 percent over the period.
He added that the decisions on the economy are being taken by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and implemented by the finance ministry. “And there is mutual suspicion and a blame game between the mandarins in the two offices.”
On consumption data and onion prices
Chidambaram wrote that data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) shows a decline in consumption, while rural wages and producer prices have also slid; inflation is on the rise; thermal power plants are working at a reduced capacity due to a lack of demand for electricity.
The government is “…struggling to control the price of the humble onion, a staple among the poor and the middle class,” he further wrote.
Chidamabaram was scathing in his diagnosis of the problems facing Indian economy. He wrote that a host of decisions taken by the ruling dispensation have led to an “impending disaster.” “The fault of the government is its stubborn and mulish defence of indefensible decisions taken in the past — demonetisation, a flawed GST, tax terrorism, regulatory overkill, protectionism and centralisation of decision-making in the PMO,” he wrote.
The Congress veteran went on to add that the government has denied that structural issues in the economy need to be addressed. He berated the government for taking the inputs of “competent economists” to address the problems. “India’s economy is being run without the aid and advice of competent economists. The last one was Dr Arvind Subramanian. Imagine teaching a doctoral programme without a professor or performing a complicated surgery without a doctor! Running an economy without reputed economists — and through incompetent managers — is the same.”
Subramanian served as the chief economic adviser from October 2014 to June 2018 before leaving the role to resume his career in the academia in the United States.
First Published: IST