New Delhi: Attacking the Centre over its handling of the economy, Congress on Saturday asked it to pluck up courage to go for bold reforms, saying the party will engage with the government if it means business. "Once the economy stabilised as I believe it had by June 2014, the government should have then given the economy a big push by going for bold structural reforms, taken the difficult the decisions which were pending because United Progressive Alliance did not have absolute majority in the Lok Sabha," former finance minister P. Chidambaram told reporters.
"Now this government has 282 or may be 283 (seats) in the Lok Sabha, it should pick up the courage and take up bold structural reform and in doing so, it must engage the opposition. The Congress party is willing to engage if the government means business," the Congress leader, who has been nominated from the west Indian state of Maharashtra by the party for Rajya Sabha polls, said.
On Goods and Services Tax (GST), Chidambaram said, the government has failed to engage the Congress party over the three principal objections raised by it. "Either the government should convince us that our objections are unfounded or government must accept our objections if they are well founded and bring about amendments. Such an engagement, such a dialogue, to best of my knowledge, has not taken place across the table," he said.
Chidambaram advised the government to reach out to the opposition and consider its suggestions. "Work with opposition, engage the opposition. There is talent and sound advice outside the government. Call them, talk to them. That's the advice I will give any government including my own government," he said.
At a press conference on two-years of the Modi government, he wondered that "if agriculture and industry are in distress, what is there to celebrate?" The government's record in agriculture is dismal, he said, adding growth was negative at -0.2 per cent in 2014-15 and a meagre 1.1 per cent in 2015-16 and the government failed to anticipate and tackle the acute distress in rural India.
"The Supreme Court has chastised the government in the strongest terms for negligence in managing the consequences of two years of drought and passing the buck in providing drought relief," he said.
With regard to industry, Chidambaram said, annual sales growth of all firms in 2015-16 was negative at -5.7 per cent and annual sales growth of manufacturing firms was negative at -11.2 per cent. "These are reflected in credit growth which is at a 20-year low of 9.9 per cent (average for the months of 2015-16). They are also reflected in the slump in merchandise exports which was -15.5 per cent in 2015-16. Another indicator is the Index of Industrial Production which stood at a meagre 2.4 per cent in 2015-16," he said.
"All I can point out is there are no jobs, there are no industries, industries are in slump, exports are down for 17th successive month and nobody seems to care. If exports are down, thousands of jobs must have been lost and that's the logical inference. The citizens of this country will drop their own score cards," he added.
"The average citizens need jobs and incomes. They do not consume GDP numbers," Chidambaram said.