Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said the Indian economy suffered the biggest contraction due to Covid-19 pandemic, but the government has been able to contain retail inflation at 6.2 per cent.
Replying to a general discussion on the Union Budget in Rajya Sabha, the minister said, the Budget for 2022-23 fiscal year, stands for continuity, brings stability to the economy along with predictability of taxation.
She stated that the objective of the budget is a stable and sustainable recovery in the economy.
Faced with criticism for her latest Budget not doing enough for the poor, Sitharaman on Friday mocked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's 2013 comment of poverty being a state of mind, and asked if this is the poverty she was supposed to address.
Responding to Opposition jibes about the next 25 years of Amrit Kaal leading up to India’s 100 years of Independence, as mentioned in the Budget, Ms. Sitharaman said that the ‘Andh Kaal’ (era of darkness) referred to by a member actually occurred due to the Congress.
“In 1991, the country had just two weeks of foreign exchange reserves left… Double digit inflation during the 10 years of the UPA-1, and particularly UPA-2, was Andh Kaal indeed. Third, the coal scam, the everyday headlines of corruption, 2G scam, middlemen all over, that was Andh Kaal,” the minister said.
“…And not knowing how to deal with the country after the global financial crisis, and India becoming a fragile five economy with policy paralysis, so the Opposition member is referring to the situation they created as Andh Kaal,” she asserted.
Replying to the discussion on Budget 2022-23 in the Rajya Sabha, she said her Budget brings stability to the economy and has measures to create jobs.
Without naming Gandhi, she referred to the Congress leader's remarks on poverty to counter the criticism from Opposition leaders, including former finance minister P Chidambaram of the Budget leaving out the poor.
"Please be clear, is this the poverty that you wanted me to address, the poverty of mind?" she said.
As Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi protested that she was mocking the poor, Sitharaman said, "I am not mocking the poor people. The person who had mocked the poor people, you are in alliance with your party."
Amid repeated interruptions, she took Congress leaders to the cleaners for the poverty comment.
"What is the poor that you are talking about?," she asked. "Your former (Congress) president said the poverty does not mean scarcity of food, money or material things. If one possesses self-confidence, then one can overcome it. He said it's a state of mind. I've not named the person but we know who it is."
As protests broke out, she said the comment was reported in the media and she was just quoting the Congress leader.
Taking the help of a Tamil proverb, Sitharaman said she did not take any name but everybody started defending. "If you want a rough translation of the Tamil proverb, it is -- during rainy seasons no one knows where the frog is, but you know where it is when it makes the croak-croak."
Sitharaman took strong exception to senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal's remark that 'India is not in Amrit Kaal but in Rahu Kaal since 2014'.
'Rahu Kaal' was then, when an ordinance brought by the Prime Minister of their own party was tore in front of the media, she said referring to the 2013 incident of Rahul Gandhi.
"That was the Rahu Kaal", she said. Rahu Kaal is what produces G-23"
G-23 is a grouping of 23 Congress leaders including Sibal who have voiced concerns over the party's leadership style.
"Senior leaders of the party are leaving the party. That is Rahu Kaal," she said.
On Priyanka Gandhi's slogan of 'Ladki hoon lad sakti hoon', the finance minister cited incidents against women to mock the Congress party.
On charges that she did not know the ground reality as she was not an elected member, Sitharaman said, "Did the honourable member imply that all Rajya Sabha members of their time, including the former Prime Minister were disconnected from the reality?"
Compared to the performance of the UPA government during the global financial crisis in 2008-09, she pointed out that retail inflation was 9.1 per cent during the financial crisis of 2008-09, while it is at 6.2 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic that has a bigger impact on the economy.
The minister said that the Indian economy suffered the biggest contraction because of the pandemic.
She explained that the Indian economy suffered Rs 9.57 lakh crore loss due to the pandemic, compared to a loss of Rs 2.12 lakh cr during the global meltdown in 2008-09.
She also told the House that capital spending gives much more multiplier than revenue route and therefore the government has increased public capital spending to boost the economy.
Sitharaman said that the government is also encouraging startups which resulted in creation of many unicorns during the pandemic.