Is the Government limping towards the General Elections and has it become a lame duck in its administration? This is the key issue that Karan Thapar discusses with Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi on Devils Advocate.
Karan Thapar: There is widespread belief that your Government has lost control over its agenda and that it is limping towards elections. Have you become a lame duck administration?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Absolutely not. This is a campaign of those who want to crush the economy of India and want to see to it that the UPA Government does not complete its full term. But that is not the case. We are in position. Parliament, Government and all of us are in position.
Karan Thapar: Let’s look at the serious challenges you faced and let us start with inflation. It has already touched 8.5 per cent and it’s heading towards 10 per cent or even 11 per cent. You have any idea when inflation will start to fall?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I am hopeful that by the time we get hold of the prospect of Kharif crop, the inflation will come dramatically down and substantially down.
Karan Thapar: You are saying two important things. Firstly, it will not start coming down till October.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I think the trend will start before October and much depends on the oil economy of the whole world.
Karan Thapar: You also said that by October, it will come substantially down. How much is substantially down?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I cannot calculate how much would be substantially down but it will certainly be the best in Asia and surpass the figures and statistics of the NDA rule.
Karan Thapar: I am doubtful because in March, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that inflation will soon start coming down. He was wrong. In April, Kamal Nath claimed that the decline had started and he was wrong.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Chidambaram and Kamal Nath did expect but again both could not imagine like the nation that the oil economy would go beyond anyone's control. Saudi King himself is trying his best.
Karan Thapar: In that case, how do I know what you are saying is not wrong. How do I know that your prediction will come true and is not a false hope?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Prediction is the word of astrologers and not politicians.
Karan Thapar: But this is exactly what you are doing. You have no basis for your conviction that inflation will come down in October.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: We are absolutely convinced when we say that the figures will come down. Inflation figures cannot be exactly predicted that it would go to that astronomical figure. I am confident when I say that our country's economy is one of the best.
Karan Thapar: I’ll give you a second reason. I am not saying g this only because Chidambaram was wrong or Kamal Nath was wrong...
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Nobody is wrong. I can’t predict tomorrow what OPEC will decide.
Karan Thapar: Reason why I am doubting you is because last week on this programme Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that if the oil prices increase internationally after June 4, then India will be forced to raise prices of LPG and petrol. And since June 4, the international prices of petrol have increased by $15, which is over 12 per cent. So instead of inflation coming down as you are saying, it is actually destined to go up.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I did not say inflation will come down.
Karan Thapar: You did. You said substantially.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I said the inflation depends on some key factors. One is the oil economy of the world. Second, of course the essential food items based on our own domestic production. And at the present moment, I can say with full confidence that in Asia we are absolutely secure as far as the food front is concerned. Depending on the crop prospect of Kharif, if it goes well, I can say that the inflationary trend, which people are saying, will go beyond a margin, will actually come down.
Karan Thapar: You confused the audience. You began the interview by saying that by the time Kharif crop comes in, inflation will come down substantially. Now you are saying that you did not say that inflation would come down. So, what are you saying? Will it come down, go up or not?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Inflation is substantially linked with the oil economy of the world and the food front scenario of the country. If the inflation trend is to be managed…then Kharif prospect is assessed, inflation is likely to come down. However, no one can predict the oil scenario in the world.
Karan Thapar: So you are saying that you hope it comes down, but you can’t assure?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I hope it comes down but I cant predict because I am not an astrologer.
Karan Thapar: So, the truth is that you don't know?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: You or an expert in this field would also not know. Not even international relations experts or the politicians know about the future. What I can predict is that our Government will give the most stable, viable and convincing economy in Asia and much better than what NDA could manage or ever managed.
Karan Thapar: But the truth is that this is just hope.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: No. Not hope. You should come with facts and figures.
Karan Thapar: I have come with facts and figures.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I request you to bring Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh on the same table with Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee with facts and figures. And, if I do use the language of Twenty20, then I must say that Chidambaram and Pranab will knock out Singh and Sinha.
Karan Thapar: But what has this got to do with inflation coming down. You are evading and deliberately not answering.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I am telling you that the inflationary trend is not in the hands of any country in the world.
Karan Thapar: It is out of your control?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Last May, in China, the food inflation was more than 18 per cent.
Karan Thapar: You have made a terrible mistake. You brought in China. This year alone, Chinese inflation has come down from 9 per cent to just over 7 per cent. So, I think you are raising a bad example.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I will give you a good example.
Karan Thapar: Overall inflation in China is just over 7 per cent.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Even with the price hike in the world economy, India maintained inflation around 9 per cent. This may go up. But by the time Kharif crops come in, I am hopeful that inflation will come down.
Karan Thapar: Let us come to oil price hike. You are under pressure from the Left to back off. They want you to roll back. Will you stand firm or will you roll back?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: We will stand firm.
Karan Thapar: Will you even stand firm if Left threatened to withdraw support?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: When that situation comes, we shall discuss it at that time.
Karan Thapar: Now you are not firm?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I am very firm. Whatever we have announced, we will stick to it and not bring anything down.
Karan Thapar: Your handling of inflation and oil price hike has provided a lifeline to the BJP in MP and Rajasthan today. Your economic management is actually digging your own Government's political grave.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I think our economic management is way better. Do you know what was their revenue deficit was when they left office and what is ours? What was their fiscal deficit and what is ours? Tell the people how they managed subsidy and how we manage it?
Karan Thapar: But Mr Dasmunsi, if you end up in 10 per cent inflation, which everyone is predicting, it will be the worst inflation that India has seen for almost 15 years. That is what matters to people. You have an election in front of you. Will they vote for you?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I am aware that inflation management is very critical and if finally people do have to choose, keeping all the facts and figures in mind, then democratic and sensible people of India will again vote for us and not for them.
Karan Thapar: Then explain this to me. Why is AB Bardhan, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, publicly calling for the resignation of the FM. If your management is so good, then why do your allies want Chidambaram to leave?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: There is a problem with the Communists. They never try to manage any affairs. They can’t provide alternate formulas.
Karan Thapar: You don’t take Bardhan seriously?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Bardhanji will just say resign, but who will take the Prime Minister’s place and with what policies and objectives? Bardhhanji has no clue.
Karan Thapar: You are satisfied with the way Chidambaram, Ahluwalia and Manmohan Singh are managing the economy?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I think picking people is not a good idea. This is a typical way the media looks at issues.
Karan Thapar: Are you satisfied with the economic management?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I think the economic management of Manmohan Singh's Government is very good. And those who criticise his management should learn some economics as students from Manmohan Singh who has been a professor of Delhi School of Economics.
Karan Thapar: Let us come to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Do you believe that this is essential for India's energy security?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I think we discussed this issue, both in Parliament and outside many times. It is very important for the energy security of the country.
Karan Thapar: Let me ask you a blunt question. Which is more important, securing the Indo-US nuclear deal exactly as it is or the Government completing its full five years.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I want to repeat and say that the Government is completing its tenure of five years. I was asked this question last year also. Whether completing the tenure means three or six months before the election is not the concern, Government is already in the fifth year and it will complete the fifth year.
Karan Thapar: You said that even if the elections are six months earlier, you believe that the Government would have completed its five years. Six months don’t matter?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I am not saying that. I am saying that the Government will complete its tenure even if the elections are six or two months earlier.
Karan Thapar: Given that the PM has called the nuke deal as strategic and as a turning point, if the Government decides to cancel the deal just to say five or six months more in office, would the country not turn around and say that you betrayed us?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: With UPA Government and Congress, we stand firmly with the Prime Minster.
Karan Thapar: When you say firmly with the PM , do you mean, by the nuclear deal?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Firmly by PM means that all the initiatives that PM will take and complete.
Karan Thapar: So if the PM decides to finalise the deal with IAEA and take the negotiations further, the party will support the minister?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Our PM is already supported by the party from day one and shall continue to support it. But the issue that you raised, I would like to repeat that the committee is already working on that and deciding the future course of action but in a coalition government, we are seeking support from others, and with this, confusions might take place, but in any case, we will not let our PM down.
Karan Thapar: Will the RJD, NCP, DMK stand by the PM or will they withdraw support?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: They will all stand by the PM.
Karan Thapar: You have had eight rounds of talks with the Left and everyone’s convinced that the Left is trying to kill the deal. The moment has come when people are saying that the PM should say that enough is enough and the Government must decide one way or the other.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: You are trying to articulate the speech of the PM which is not good. PM prepares his own speech and whether enough is enough or not is up to him. People’s perception is that the Left is hitching on the issue for long and the Government’s perception is that they have a responsibility that everyone must be convinced.
Karan Thapar: There will be a time when you either sacrifice the deal and agree with the Left or you tell them that you are going with the deal and that you are sorry that you failed to convince them. Is the Government committed to securing the nuclear deal and taking it to the IAEA so that it can happen when George Bush is still President?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: I can’t say whether he will be president or no. But I can say that whatever the PM has promised in front of the whole Cabinet will be intact. We are not letting down our PM till the last day of the tenure.
Karan Thapar: Will the nuke deal have gone through the IAEA stage and the NSG stage and be given to the US Congress before the end of this year.
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Well, I do hope so. The way things are moving, it may happen.
Karan Thapar: And you are prepared to defy the Left it need be?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: We are not letting down our PM in any manner whatsoever.
Karan Thapar: Is Mrs Gandhi as committed to the Indo-US nuclear deal as the PM?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: Absolutely, you are correct. Mrs Gandhi, as the head of the party and the UPA is fully committed (to the deal). There is no difference between Mrs Gandhi and the Prime Minister. There are attempts in the country by a section of the media to create a mischievous difference between Mrs Gandhi and the PM, including on the nuclear treaty.