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At Chintan Shivir, Congress talks about a ‘reset’ of economic policies

By Sandeep Phukan

India reaped the benefits of the 1991 economic liberalisation ushered in by a Congress-led government, but global and domestic developments make it necessary to contemplate a “reset” of economic policies, former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Saturday.

As the convener of the Committee on Economic issues, Mr. Chidambaram addressed the media on the party’s position on various issues that came up on day one of the party’s three-day-long Chintan Shivir at Udaipur in Rajasthan.

Calling for a comprehensive review of fiscal relations between the Centre and the States, Mr. Chidambaram demanded that the compensation to the States for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) should be extended for a period of three years.

Mr. Chidambaram said the wrong policies of the government had fuelled inflation and unemployment and that it was clueless about how to set things right.

Downplaying the Modi government’s argument that inflation was linked to the Ukraine war, Mr. Chidambaram said, “The Ukraine war has added to our problems, but we should have taken pre-emptive action. I don't think lame excuses like the Ukraine war can explain why there is high CPI and WPI inflation”.

“What the Modi government is doing is another repeat of India Shining. We are confident we will be able to put forward an economic road map that will appeal to the people and defeat the hyperbole and exaggeration of the government," he said.

The former Finance Minister said India reaped enormous benefits from the liberalisation of 1991 in terms of wealth creation, new businesses and entrepreneurs, a huge middle class, millions of jobs, exports and lifting 27 crore people out of poverty during a 10-year period.

“After 30 years, it is felt that taking into account global and domestic developments, it may be necessary to contemplate a reset of the economic policies. A reset of economic policies must also address the questions of rising inequalities, extreme poverty among the bottom 10% of the population," he said.

"We are not stepping back on liberalisation, we are stepping forward post-liberalisation,” Mr Chidambaram added.

India's rank in the Global Hunger Index 2021 (101 out of 116 countries), evidence of widespread nutritional deficiency among women and children, findings of the Annual State of Education Report 2021 (ASER 2021) and the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) justified a recalibration of policies.

In the closed-door brainstorming session, senior leader Manish Tewari is said to have argued that the party should shun the politics of socialism and embrace the politics of aspiration, view corporate India as an instrument of growth and promote start-ups for employment generation.

Keen to make a political comeback by raising people’s issue through another round of Jan Jagaran Abhiyan on issues such as inflation and joblessness, top Congress leaders, including party chief Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Digvijaya Singh, also held a separate session with the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs and Congress Legislature Party leaders to formulate agitational programmes.

Separately, the panel on agriculture, headed by former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, recommended the setting up of a National Farm Debt Relief Commission, treating agriculture on the lines of industry when it comes to offering loans by banks, and the legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP) for crops.

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