When Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and his predecessor P Chidambaram shared the stage on Friday, both veterans debated several issues — economic policy, the NDA government’s performance and the political tactics of the two parties. Excerpts from the debate at the launch of Consulting Editor, The India Today Group, Rajdeep Sardesai’s book ‘2014: The Election That Changed India’.
On retrospective taxation
Chidambaram: You have won 282 seats … and this was the time to take hard decisions. With 282, I would have reversed the retrospective tax with a simple amendment. I was firmly hoping that Arun would reverse it … I wish you will do it in 2015 (Budget).
Jaitley: You knew that you were going out of power. I expected Chidambaram would clean up the mess. It was a defining moment and it gave Indian economy a bad name …We did not do a legislation because public could find it difficult to understand why there is a legislation while a case is pending in the court.
Chidambaram: I feel let down. (For the BJP government not taking tough reform initiatives despite having a majority).
Jaitley: Nobody feels let down. It’s very easy to comment that we should do the most difficult reforms in the beginning. But those (that) need larger consensus in the country are difficult to pursue in the beginning. You will have to survive to implement. The reforms that can create confrontation can be taken up later
On Insurance Bill
Chidambaram: (On why the Congress had opposed its own Bill) Perhaps the Congress party is doing tit for tat. What happened in 2013 December (when the BJP decided to oppose it despite assurances on its backing) must be haunting them. It might not be the politically correct thing to do, but if they hung it up to dry for one year, may be some in the Congress party thought let them hang out to dry for four.
Jaitley: I hope to get a positive report from the Select Committee … Insurance Bill may be passed (in the Winter Session of Parliament). …Like all good things, this (Insurance Amendment Bill) will come to an end. I am hoping for a positive Select Committee report. And I do hope to pass it this month.
On Nehruvian consensus
Chidambaram: They (the BJP) will try as hard as they might. But I doubt if they can break the consensus evolved in Nehru time. They truly can’t do divisive agenda or Hindutva or Right wing … it cannot dissolve Nehruvian consensus.
Jaitley: We have to evolve a new policy with emphasis on security issues, economic issues etc which may be alien to the era in which Panditji evolved his views. Our agenda is to evolve new polices … which are different from those existing in the era of Jawaharlal Nehru.