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regular-article-logo Sunday, 23 June 2024
Finance minister calls Opposition ‘jealous’

Nirmala Sitharaman gives ‘enemy’ reply to economy query

Finance minister’s remark comparing Opposition MPs to ‘enemies in foreign countries’ is not recorded in the ‘uncorrected debate’ put up on the House website

J.P. Yadav New Delhi Published 13.12.22, 03:30 AM
Nirmala Sitharaman in the Lok Sabha on Monday.

Nirmala Sitharaman in the Lok Sabha on Monday. PTI picture

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday accused Opposition members in the Lok Sabha of feeling “jealous if our economy does well”, as “our enemies in foreign countries” do.

“Sir, it’s sad that some of our members in this House, like our enemies in foreign countries, feel jealous if our economy does well and is the fastest growing economy,” the minister said, responding to a question from a Congress MP on the sharp fall in the value of the rupee.

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Sitharaman said the members should “feel proud and not make fun”.

The minister may claim the Indian economy is ripping along very well with several forecasts estimating a GDP growth this fiscal between 6.9 per cent and 7 per cent. RBI governor Shaktikanta Das too asserted at his news conference after last week’s monetary policy that “India stands out as an island of resilience in an otherwise volatile and gloomy world”.

The Indian economy, however, presents a very contrasting bloom-and-gloom portrait based on macroeconomic indicators. On Monday, there was reason to grin and groan at the same time: retail inflation sank to an 11-month low of 5.88 per cent, tumbling below the 6 per cent upside target set by the RBI as part of its inflation mandate.

But that cheer was muffled by the depressing data on industrial output. Factories across the country aren’t humming at all: industrial output measured by the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) shrank by 4 per cent. The manufacturing sector — the biggest generator of jobs — contracted 5.6 per cent. To make it worse, 17 of the industry sectors have recorded negative growth rates.

As for the rupee, it has been propped up by the RBI’s frequent interventions in the foreign exchange market. This is one of the main reasons why India’s forex reserves fell from $606.5 billion on April 1 this year to $561.2 billion on December 2. A year ago, forex reserves stood at $633.6 billion — which means that they have shrunk by over $72 billion in just under a year. Foreign investors have been scrambling to pull money out of India amid fears of a global meltdown next year.

Sitharaman’s remark comparing Opposition MPs to “enemies in foreign countries” was not recorded in the “uncorrected debate” put up by the Lok Sabha secretariat on the House website. But it was clearly audible in a video tweeted from the minister’s official handle, @nsitharamanoffc, which was retweeted from her personal handle, @nsitharaman.

Sir, dukh ki baat hai ki, is sadan mein hamare sadasyagan bhi hamare videsh mein koi dushman hai toh, unke jaisa, agar hamari economy achchhe se chalti hai, fastest-growing economy hai, lekin uske upar jalan bhavna se baat karte hain,” she is heard saying.

The trigger was Congress MP, Anumula Revanth Reddy, recalling Narendra Modi’s “rupee is in the ICU” remark when he was Gujarat chief minister, and arguing the rupee was headed to the “mortuary” now. “He (Reddy) is asking a question now by referring to a statement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was the chief minister…. It would have been better had he recalled the other indicators (of the economy) then, because then the whole economy was in the ICU,” Sitharaman said, triggering uproar from the Congress benches.

Reddy, MP from Malkangiri in Telengana, had said he wanted to ask the same question that Modi had asked when he was chief minister.

“When the rupee was at 66 (to the dollar), it was said (by Modi) that it had gone to the ICU. Today, it is at Rs 83.20. There are two ways from the ICU. One, returning home after getting well and the second, going to the mortuary,” Reddy said. “If the value is at 83.20 then it is going directly to the mortuary. Therefore, I want to ask the finance minister whether there is any plan to retrieve the rupee from the ICU. Narendra Modiji and I have the same question.”

Sitharaman said the value of the US dollar had appreciated against currencies across the globe, and only the Indian economy had shown robustness in withstanding this. She said: “At that time (the UPA’s tenure), foreign exchange reserves were very low. Today, despite the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, our economy is the fastest-growing economy in the world.”

She added: “I have explained very clearly the position of the Indian currency versus the US dollar. I know that it has become good fodder for all those who want to play around social media in creating memes. For example, people make fun of me because I don’t eat onions. But I do take care of onion-eating people.”

Sitharaman had earlier this month, while speaking in the House about the rise in onion prices, said she didn’t eat onions or garlic much because she came from a family that didn’t, either. Her remark was criticised as irrelevant and spawned sarcastic memes.

Answering a supplementary question from Reddy over the depletion of the foreign exchange reserve and about FDI and FIIs exiting the country, Sitharaman said “it is absolutely not proven by data”. She attacked the Congress House leader, Adhir Chowdhury, for the uproar, claiming that replying amid the din had torn her vocal cords.

“...Because of this kind of interference from the leader of the Opposition, my vocal cords are being teared (sic) by the level of his guttural (a speech sound produced in the throat) power,” the “uncorrected debate” recorded her as saying. “I cannot match up to the vocal powers of the leader of the Opposition,” she added and sat down.

She claimed she had given a complete reply while Congress members protested saying the minister hadn’t given a proper answer.

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