‘National interest’: FM proves Bajaj right

Two days after Bajaj Industries chairman Rahul Bajaj created a stir saying the Modi government is unwilling to brook criticism, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman came out with all guns blazing to defend the government. In the process, she ended up proving the industrialist right. 

An aggressive Nirmala said “national interest” could be hurt if “such impressions gain traction”, as she sought to silence concerns raised by Bajaj by deploying the saffron party’s well-tested strategy.

The minister first took to Twitter and then used the floor of Parliament in her riposte to remarks by Bajaj, who rubbed the Union government the wrong way on Saturday by flagging the “environment of fear” under the Modi government. 

“We are a government that listens, whether it is criticism or an input. When Home Minister responded to an industry leader, it was with a clear attitude that we are willing to hear or take criticism. I was on the dais,” she said while replying to the taxation amendment laws in the Lok Sabha.

But even before she raised the issue for the second time in Parliament, her party, which counter-attacked through its Union ministers, was widely trolled on Twitter.

Among those who joined the twitterati panning the government were Congress leader Kapil Sibal, his party spokespersons Salman Anees Soz and Sanjay Jha.

Actress Urmila Matondkar, who recently quit the Congress, said, “We need more like Rahul Bajaj, who will stand up for the rest.”

Columnist and author Tavleen Singh said the Centre’s response confirmed what the industrialist said. “That senior ministers in the Modi government needed to retaliate aggressively against Rahul Bajaj confirms what he said. The private sector is hurting badly but most businessmen are too afraid to say this,” said Tavleen.

Bajaj stirred the hornet’s nest when he spoke about an “environment of fear”, becoming the first industrialist to openly raise fingers at the government.

“You (the government) are doing good work and despite that, we don’t have the confidence that you’ll appreciate criticism. This environment of fear, it’s definitely on our minds”.

Home Minister Amit Shah, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and Sitharaman were on the dais when Bajaj raised issues of tax terrorism, jailing Opposition leaders without them getting convicted, mob lynching and BJP MP Pragya Thakur’s remarks praising Nathuram Godse.

Bajaj, who has been quite vocal against government policies in the past, irrespective of the regime in power, had also said that many other industry leaders would not dare to open their mouth against the government.

He found support from Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon, who tweeted, “Hope the government reaches out to India Inc for working out solutions to revive consumption & growth. So far we are all pariahs & govt does not want to hear any criticism of our economy.”

The audience also included RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das.

Bajaj had also criticised the Congress-led government in 2013. He had then said, “Instead of focusing on highways, power, rail, ports and IT networks that are critical for sustained growth, we steadily raised the nation’s fiscal deficit to finance consumption-based subsidies and handouts.”

Bajaj’s son Rajiv Bajaj, who is the managing director of Bajaj Auto, was quoted as saying he was personally not sure of the “relevance of raising such a sensitive and subjective issue at a public function to celebrate corporate excellence”.

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