Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram spoke exclusively to The Quint on Budget 2018 and upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
India

Budget Health Scheme an Unfunded Jumla: Chidambaram to The Quint

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Monday, 5 February, speaking to The Quint’s Editorial Director Sanjay Pugalia, said that insurance-based healthcare benefited companies, not the people. Union Minister Arun jaitley, presenting the BJP government’s final full Budget, proposed that the government would provide a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh to 10 crore families in the country.

Chidambaram, however, accused the government of not putting a number to the National Health Protection Scheme at the time of proposing it.

Biggest ‘Unfunded Jhumla’

He questioned how the government was planning to finance the scheme and the premium it would provide on such a scheme, calling it the world’s biggest “unfunded jhumla”.

No secretary to the government is willing to put a figure on the scheme. The minister (Arun Jaitley) is not willing to put a figure on that. We know that half a dozen states in the country are running programmes where the insurance cover is Rs 1 lakh.
P Chidambaram

Chidambaram also questioned how the government was planning to choose the 50 crore people, asserting that one cannot choose who falls sick. He pointed out that initially there was no intimation about states requiring to share the burden which was followed by the announcement that states will provide 40 percent of the “burden”. He called it another “jhumla”.

Chidambaram said that for the same money, the government should build more public hospitals, hire more doctors, buy more equipment, install more beds so that people get access to free medical care. He also said that insurance based health care benefits only the insurance company and not the people.

He also slammed the Modi government saying that it is their old habit to not think before launching anything, as they did in the case of demonetisation.

They don’t look before they leap, they leap and then look back.
P Chidambaram

He also pointed out that states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu ran their own health insurance schemes and said that the government gave them no reason to join the Central scheme.

Also Read: Budget 2018 – A Remnant Of Our Socialist Past  

Selling Pakodas is Self-Employment, Not Job Creation

After Amit Shah attacked him in his maiden Rajya Sabha speech for equating begging with selling pakodas, Chidambaram said that selling pakodas is self-employment and not job creation.

What did the pakoda sellers say? Do they want to sell pakodas? They went and protested against PM Modi’s rally in Karnataka yesterday wearing their graduate gowns. A graduate does not want to sell pakodas. He is doing that because he has nothing else to do and he has to earn a living, but don’t count that as a job.
P Chidambaram

He also said that the Modi government did not stick to its promise of creating 2 crore jobs.

LTCG Being Introduced at The Wrong Time

Chidambaram said that while he does not question the principle behind reintroducing taxation on long term capital gains(LTCG), he said that it was being introduced at the wrong time. he said that this was a time when interest rates are high, credit is not groing and industries re shy of investments.

he said that the re-introduction of LTCG at such a time may force foerign incestors to look at other countries like Singapore and Japan. He also said that the finance minister might blame multiple global factors for the markets to crash, but he cannot deny that introuction of LTCG is also one of the reasons.

Also Read: Union Budget 2018: Salaried Class Left Wishing For More

Congress Must Be More of A ‘Fighting’ Machine

The former finance minister said that the BJP’s “just pass” in Gujarat and its “marksheet” in Rajasthan were indicators of the performance of the Central government. He also added that the various “tests” that are scheduled now – including Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha – would give a clearer picture to the people.

In Gujarat, the party aimed at 150 seats. They managed to win 99 seats. For me, 99 is a defeat for the BJP. It is the state of the prime minister and the party president. 99, in this case, means they barely passed the exams. We can say, with 40 marks.
P Chidambaram

He said that the Congress should become more of a “fighting machine” and added that there were no silver medals in elections.

On BJP’s Farmer Woes

Criticising the BJP’s promise of Minimum Support Price plus 50 percent in the Budget, Chidambaram said that it was not a “concrete plan” given the agricultural cycle of the country.

He said that the Rabi season was over and that the farmers have to wait till Kharif season in October for returns. The Congress veteran added that there was “nothing” for farmers between now and October, stating that the BJP were acting like ‘Kumbhakarnas’ for the last four years and have suddenly woken up to the woes of the farmers.

Chidambaram took a dig at the BJP, asking them to hire a cost accountant and arrive at a concrete plan for solving the farmers’ crisis with MSP.

On Alliance With DMK, SP and NCP

The leader asserted that if a state is disenchanted with a political party, the votes will go to the second strongest party in the state, adding that the party need not necessarily be the Congress.

Chidambaram also acknowledged that the DMK will be the leader of any alliance the party has in Tamil Nadu, adding that the statement is based on current political situation in the state.

While he said that he was not aware of Uttar Pradesh politics well enough to comment, he said a possible Mahagathbandhan between the Bahujan Samaj party, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress would help topple the current government in the state.

He also said that Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar expressed that he wanted to be with the Congress. While Pawar might have had differences with the Congress in the past, Chidambaram said he was “basically a Congressman”.

Pointing out how the Congress won the elections in 2004 when it was predicted that the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was unbeatable, Chidambaram said that elections can throw “miracles” in the country.

Also Read: Alliance On, for Now: TDP on Reports of Rift with BJP After Budget

Video Editors: Mohd Ibrahim and Purnendu Pritam
Camerapersons: Surat Singh and Manish
Video Producer: Anthony S Rozario
Text by: Eshwar Gole

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