'...because the party is based on the Constitution.'
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal questions the government's gross domestic product data of 7.1 per cent.
He tells Amit Agnihotri that Prime Minister Narendra Modi came out with the figures to gain in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls (This interview was conducted before the assembly election results).
The government has come out with data showing GDP growth this financial year would be 7.1 per cent in contradiction to the Congress' stand that demonetisation will hit the economy. What’s your take?
The Central Statistical Organisation has given the 7.1 per cent GDP figure, but has also said the real picture would emerge only after a year when more data would be available.
As it is, data on the rural sector is not collected where cash transactions are the highest.
How can the government then claim a figure of 7.1 per cent GDP?
Why do you think the government would do that?
To win elections in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.
I think the government has come out with this GDP data keeping in mind the assembly polls in UP.
But let me state that the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) today is the most cash-rich party.
And this can be seen and felt by touring UP where BJP candidates are spending money like anything.
It seems as if demonetisation had no impact in UP.
Would this impact the CSO's reputation in any way?
See, after demonetisation people have started doubting the Reserve Bank of India.
Now they will find it difficult to trust the CSO as well.
If the government cannot collect correct data, its policies cannot be right. That is the basic thing the government must understand.
Why are you dead opposed to the note ban?
First, because it is the biggest scam in the history of independent India.
We know that Rs 15.45 lakh crore was washed out as a result of the note ban.
We also know through media reports that around Rs 14.97 lakh crore has come back into the banks.
What happened to the government's claim of curbing black money then or curbing the generation of such unaccounted money?
We know that when the common man was standing in long queues outside banks to withdraw his own money, certain influential people had bundles of new currency notes.
We know that money changed hands after the note ban and banks obliged some people on the instructions of their political masters.
We know that anyone seeking to convert his old currency could do so by paying a commission ranging from 20 to 50 per cent to brokers.
I think nothing short of a joint parliamentary committee probe would clear the air about the entire demonetisation issue.
What in your view are the ill-effects of note ban?
It turned the poor poorer.
I would like to ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi that if the note ban was such a great thing why he is silent during the campaigning in UP.
Why does he not tell people about the great work that he did?
The note ban hit the tourism and mining industry in Goa and the results of the assembly polls on March 11 will show the impact of demonetisation.
Similarly, small industry was hit in the industrial belts of UP such as Kanpur and Moradabad, and Ludhiana in Punjab.
The PM has been spreading a series of lies since coming to power in 2014.
We will correct the situation in 2019.
Do you think the government has handled the economy well?
The best indicator of an economy's growth is the creation of jobs.
The PM promised 20 million jobs a year, but labour department figures show that only 135,000 jobs have been created.
This reflects the failure of the economy after demonetisation.
The government is citing higher tax collections to sell the growth story, but did not think twice before hiking prices of non-subsidised gas cylinders.
They are showing collection from ordinary people by increasing their tax as India's growth story.
This is the most myopic vision of the economy.
The PM talks about the poor on one hand. On the other hand, he proceeds to increase the price of LPG cylinders by Rs 86 per cylinder in one stroke, which is unprecedented in India's history.
In September 2016, a non-subsidised gas cylinder cost Rs 466, it now costs Rs 737.
There is an increase of Rs 271 or nearly 58 per cent six times by the Modi government.
Is this the way you are going to treat India's poor?
But Modi countered reputed economists on the impact of the note ban saying his hard work had paid off. Your comment.
By targeting known economists, Modi cannot hide the truth.
He mocked critics of demonetisation, including Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.
The truth is that incompetence and malgovernance have become hallmarks of his style of functioning.
What is your take on the recent conflict between student groups over freedom of speech in Delhi University?
I believe our universities and colleges are oases of learning.
Such issues will turn them into barren deserts.
I think the BJP is patronising the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) to instigate violence across campuses in the country.
We have seen that in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) earlier, and now in a DU college.
The PM often refers to the BJP's Congress-free agenda. Is that a threat?
India can never be Congress-mukt (Congress-free) because the party is based on the Constitution.
The Congress ideology is based on the basics of the Constitution.
An inclusive and secular India is the base of the Constitution.
This is in fact the BJP's divisive agenda, which means a non-secular India, an intolerant India, where nobody else has any relevance.
The PM has been making personal attacks on Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. Is that fair in an election campaign?
I don't think so. He is the PM of the country and should not stoop low to target political rivals, because people take his words seriously.
He should rather make larger political points, which will help improve the level of political discourse in the country.
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IMAGE: Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, left, with Captain Amarinder Singh at an election rally in Jalalabad, Fazilka district, February 2, 2017. Photograph: PTI Photo