Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has curtly ruled out any cut in the high excise duty on fuel prices, saying the petrol and diesel price hikes are caused by volatile international prices an, therefore, due to external factors. To add insult to injury, he has criticised the people for expecting the government to do something about the skyrocketing fuel prices on the ground that any cut will affect the government’s welfare spending. In fact, he is assuming an adversarial role for the government vis-a-vis the people and suggesting that they have no option but to suffer. He may be right about the causes of the fuel price hike, but he is completely wrong on whether people have any options. That will be known in 2019.
He argues that if the rupee loses value and the crude oil prices keep climbing, fuel prices have to go up. That is straightforward logic and there is no need for any of Arun Jaitley’s great wisdom collections to understand that. If the government were to remain only as a spectator, watching the relentlessly climbing crude oil graph, which is “not showing any straight line movement”, as Jaitley laments, and the rupee going down the hill, what is the government for?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who probably sensed the mood of the people, called an emergency meeting over the weekend to review the health of the economy in view of free-falling rupee and surging oil prices. “We felt that there is a need to control the current account deficit and bring more dollars into the country. We have to meet the challenge,” Jaitley reportedly told media persons after the meeting, which decided to reduce all non-essential imports for a start. “From the finance ministry side we are taking all steps to meet the fiscal deficit target for the current year and we will maintain the target,” he added.
That should be seen as some mercy from the finance minister, who till the weekend had been insisting that the current developments were the result of external factors and there was nothing that could be done about them, except for the people to suffer the consequences.
That the UPA government did something wrong is no justification for the Modi government to repeat the offence or condone it, which is what has been happening all along. The government seems to be happy to find a target to deflect all the blame to and does not want to take charge of the situation and pursue the problems to their logical conclusion
Arun Jaitley has a lot of explaining to do over his meeting with Vijay Mallya in parliament and hair-splitting arguments whether it was ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ are besides the point. Piecing together various bits of available information, it is obvious that the fugitive billionaire left India with the knowledge of the finance minister, who could have prevented it if he acted.
There are also other serious issues that need to be settled as to how the look-out notice against the wilful defaulter was diluted to make it possible for him to leave the country’s airports. The order could not have been self-created, like some of the country’s ills are, as the Modi government would like the people to believe. Bête noire Subramanian Swamy has concluded that the origin of the order is the finance ministry. It is a different matter if Jaitley is not aware of whatever is happening within his ministry. To be fair to the man, maybe it is possible as he has been keeping indifferent health.
It is deeply disturbing that when it comes to scams that overlap tenures of different governments, such as Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and the ‘impressive’ line-up of a large number of them, the Modi government’s stand has been bordering on the diabolical. The Modi government, which came to power promising a no-holds-barred fight against corruption, has been allowing the predators to continue their loot and get away under its own nose. If a scam originated during the UPA’s rule, the concluding act has been enacted during the current disposition.
Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has gone on record that he had given a list of suspicious and fraudulent bank loans to the Prime Minister’s office, but it is not known to have elicited any response from the PM. The Modi government’s only achievement on the scam front so far has been to put a major blame on the UPA government. But people are not interested in the blame game, they only want the corrupt punished and the money recovered, which has not happened yet. Modi can continue to blame the Gandhi family and Congress can do the same to Modi and his industrialist friends, but it is not going to make any material difference to the situation of the people, which is testing the limits of their patience with its obvious fallout.
That the UPA government did something wrong is no justification for the Modi government to repeat the offence or condone it, which is what has been happening all along. The government seems to be happy to find a target to deflect all the blame to and does not want to take charge of the situation and pursue the problems to their logical conclusion. It merely watches the developments as a helpless spectator, just like Arun Jaitley has been doing with economic affairs and his tasks as the manager of the country’s economy.
His financial mastery that he wants the country to celebrate does not take cognisance of the huge amounts of public money that the likes of Mallya and Modis have plundered, which would have been enough to effectively intervene and take control of the “external factors” he is so much obsessed with and improve the situation for the people.