From a war of words between Prime Ministerial hopefuls, the campaign rhetoric moves to one between finance ministry hopefuls. Neither P. Chidambaram nor Yashwant Sinha is contesting the Parliament elections, and may have to yield ground in the race for finance ministry to some other worthy once the new government is in place. But the needle between them remains as sharp as between any two adversaries.
On Sunday, Sinha had said that the equity markets had started to look up when Chidambaram announced his decision not to contest the polls (he abdicated Shiv Ganga in favour of son Karti). On Monday, Chidambaram paid back in the same coin, saying the markets started celebrating once Sinha declined to contest-he ceded Hazaribagh in favour of son Jayant-and continued to celebrate when Jaswant Singh was expelled from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Singh was the last finance minister of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, which unexpectedly lost power in 2004, giving way to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, which appointed Chidambaram the finance minister. Sinha ran the ministry before Singh.
Sinha, in his attack on Chidambaram on Sunday, also called him a "spoiler". Chidambaram, in his first press conference since announcing he won't contest this time, called Sinha's remarks "puerile" and responded with numbers to establish his government's achievements.
He said the economy was on a firm footing and there were no talks of a downgrade by global rating agencies, a fate that once looked set to befall the country. That the government had kept the fiscal deficit to 4.6 per cent had played a big hand in averting the downgrade.
"Current account deficit for 2013-2014, which was originally estimated at $60 billion, and subsequently lowered, is likely to be much smaller - to the tune of $35 billion," he said. "The country's foreign exchange reserves have crossed $300 billion."
Sinha had criticised the UPA's economic policies and said that Chidambaram had tried to bring down the fiscal deficit artificially, leaving a huge subsidy burden for the next government to bear.
Chidambaram admitted that the issue of inflation had not been addressed completely but added that his government had controlled it. Expanding his broadside, he said the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's "brand of capitalism is crony capitalism".
Soon, though, he turned his attention back to Sinha. "Yashwant Sinha is a distant memory for the Indian economy. I hope he remains that."
That remains to be seen, but the rancor of this election's campaign may leave a lasting memory.
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