Some verbal sparring, most of it good natured but at times acerbic, between two senior politicians – former union minister P. Chidambaram and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, over issues including state of the economy, reasons for defeat of the UPA and even Rahul Gandhi, livened up the discussion during a book launch here on Nov 7, 2014.
Both politicians were participants at a discussion on the launch of senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai’s book “2014: The Election that changed India”, moderated by TV talk show host Karan Thapar.
Sardesai said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a central character in his book, in which he has traced Modi since the days he got to know him in 1990 during a rath yatra.
Sardesai said he has been very busy marketing the book.
“Marketing is essential and as the prime minister of the country will tell you, marketing can get you very far,” he said at the event, drawing laughs.
He said he has been asked by readers if it is anti-Modi.
“I have been asked by many about the book — Is the book anti-Modi? It isn’t. Is it about Narendra Modi? Yes, it is. He is the central character, he is just one of the many characters,” he said of the book brought out by Penguin India.
Karan Thapar posed a query to Chidambaram and Jaitley – whether the “Nehruvian consensus” had been discarded by the Modi government.
Chidambaram said the Modi government “Try as hard as they might, I don’t think they can really destroy or dispense with consensus. But things have to be redefined from time to time.
“You can’t govern on a purely divisive and right wing agenda, a Hindutva agenda. One has to evolve a new consensus, and much of that has to borrow from Jawaharlal Nehru. You cannot destroy the consensus evolved,” he said.
To which, Jaitley retorted that while some of the issues would be valid some are not.
“Some economic policies may not be relevant, some security issues are not relevant. We have to evolve new kind of policy.”
To some repartee on the reasons behind the economic downswing during the last years of the previous United Progressive Alliance government, Chidambaram said it was due to “some mistakes”, and “mostly global events”.
Arun Jaitley then chipped in, saying if Chidambaram had taken the right steps, the economy could have been reined in.
He also claimed that the previous BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government left behind a robust economy.
Chidambaram rebutted, saying Jaitley was keeping up a pretence as the economy was challenging in 2004 as well, when the NDA lost the elections.
“We left behind an 8.4 percent growth rate,” interjected Jaitley.
“We have had this debate in parliament too! You left behind an economy at an average of 5.7 percent,” Chidambaram replied.
Jaitley in turn blamed the UPA for the “mess” in the issue of retrospective tax.
To Jaitley claiming that the BJP came to power because the people wanted change and wanted to realise their aspirations under Modi, Chidambaram said the electoral loss was due to anti-incumbency, with a poor economy adding to the woes.
He blamed the global economic conditions, including withdrawal of stimulus by the US federal reserve, as one of the main reasons for the downslide.
Penguin India publisher Chiki Sarkar committed a gaffe at the start of the event held at the Nehru Memorial when she began the introductions by referring to Chidambaram as “Finance Minister P. Chidambaram”, drawing mirth all around.
She began again after the laughter had died down, by just giving the names of the people — Arun Jaitley, Chidambaram and Karan Thapar — without going into designations.