Former Finance Minister in the UPA government of India, P. Chidambaram has come out with a new book, ‘Fearless in Opposition’, at a time when his home State of Tamil Nadu is going through a period of political churn. He speaks to The Hindu’s Nistula Hebbar on Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK succession battle, jallikattu and demonetisation…
Q: Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has written the foreword for your book, in your interactions with him. Do you think he wanted to leave that post when he did?
A: His exit was an orchestrated exit. I had no doubt in my mind after my brief conversations with him that he would have gladly accepted a renewed term, which would be for about two years ending in September 2018, and if nudged he would even have till May 2019 term, which would have served the entire NDA government’s term in 2019. But clearly the government had a different idea and let loose their men to attack Raghuram Rajan and made it difficult for any self respecting distinguished economist to continue.
Q: That brings us to what happened after he left RBI—demonetisation. What are your estimates on the hit to the GDP compared to the government’s?
A: The government is too frightened to put out an estimate. We have estimates from CMIE to RBI. The CMIE puts it at 6%, the Central Statistics Organisation (CSO) puts it at 7.1% upto October numbers, it’s already down by half a per cent from the original estimate. So for the rest of the year it cannot be less than half a per cent, so it is well below 6.5%. The Economic Survey uses a very convoluted sentence, it says that it would be 0.25% to 0.5% less that the “new normal”, which is 7%. So that would put the figure between 6.5%-6.75%. And now the RBI yesterday has lowered it to 6.9%, and the IMF puts it at 6.6%. I have no doubt in my mind that it will be sub-6.5% and it could be close to 6%. They have shaved off between Rs1.5 lakh crore to Rs2.25 lakh crore from the GDP. 1% means Rs1.5 lakh crore, Rs2.25 lakh crore means 1.5% of the GDP which has been shaved off by this thoughtless and reckless act.
Q: In one of your columns, which is part of the book, you have said that the Congress needs to rewrite its policy platform. Why and in what way?
A: The Democratic and Republican parties in the U.S., or the Conservatives and the Labour party in the U.K., who are considered the models for parliamentary democracy, rewrite their platform once in four or five years. Our platform has not been rewritten for the last 25 years. Matters like human rights, rights of an individuals, right to privacy are a matter of concern to many educated people today. This whole issue of urbanisation, we still tend to believe that the vast majority lives in rural areas that is changing so fast. By the next election, I think half our population will be in urban areas. Urban poverty is very different from rural poverty, urban blight is different from rural. Earlier the idea of jobs was panning for the unskilled and uneducated, now we need to create jobs for the educated and skilled. The dynamics of India’s economy has changed over the last 25 years, we are still, with some changes, but more or less the platform we devised in 1991. That has to be rewritten. It’s not a criticism but a statement of fact, that every party has to rewrite its policy platform to appeal to the vote of the next generation.
Q: The AIADMK is seeing a succession battle. How do you view the events and the role of the Governor, having been Home Minister as well?
A: I have no comment on the internal process of the AIADMK, that is the right of the party’s MLAs to elect a leader. But, once a leader is elected and projected as a Chief Minister, it is the right of the people of Tamil Nadu to ask if that leader deserves to be Chief Minister. It is our right to ask whether the AIADMK could not have chosen a better leader than whoever they have elected. That question that people are asking on social media and elsewhere is gaining traction because of the peculiar circumstances in which the AIADMK finds itself today. Therefore, I think there is a disconnect between AIADMK MLAs and rank and file, the party’s leaders and the people of Tamil Nadu. This disconnect will not be resolved by OPS being replaced by another person, it will only widen. Constitutionally the Governor is bound to swear in the leader elected by a party which enjoys a majority. However, there is a small window where the Governor can exercise his discretion and say that “for the following reasons, I would like to wait for a few days.” It (window of discretion) has not been constitutionally tested yet, but is available to the Governor.
Q: The State was also rocked by protests to restore the traditional bull taming sport of jallikattu, which was a movement somewhat larger than its aims.
A: According to me it became an issue on which different people, motivated by different anxieties and concerns, could converge. In fact, many of the Marina (beach) protestors were urban youth who had perhaps never seen a jallikattu in their lives. There is deep-seated anxiety, anger and angst among the youth, particularly unemployed youth. There are no jobs. Even in a State like Tamil Nadu which always threw up jobs in the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and services sector, there are no new jobs today. Add to that the caste polarisation that has taken place in Tamil Nadu over the past few years. I have not seen such a bitter caste polarisation in Tamil Nadu in a long time. The Vanniyar-Dalit, Thevar-Dalit conflict and between other communities, the divide has become so acute today that it is creating anxiety and concern among the youth about its future. Therefore, everybody seemed to pick up this one issue to express their protest. It was a protest movement rather than a Jallikattu movement, it was a protest for a variety of reasons, but it zeroed in on jallikattu. There was also deep anger against the Central government. After 48 hours of the movement’s starting, the slogans were anti-Modi. There was no anti-Panneerselvam or anti-AIADMK slogan. Why? Because they see that many of their anxieties stem from the approach of the Central government which is domineering, undemocratic, divisive and one which provokes conflict. They see the BJP as a north Indian, Hindi dominated party of obscurantist leaders. That is how they see it.