From JNU row to black money: Arun Jaitley hits out at Opposition where it hurts most in Rajya Sabha


New Delhi: With key bills stuck in Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday reached out to Opposition asking them to shed “disruptive” politics and sought their cooperation while countering Rahul Gandhi‘s attack over issues related to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), intolerance, inflation and foreign policy.

Responding to attack on JNU row, he said the government has  nothing against a “particular student”, an apparent reference to student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, but asserted that free speech cannot be allowed to be used to advocate break-up of the country.

“I expect mainstream political parties like Congress to be in the forefront of being against these people. Please don’t do anything that lends respectability to such people,” he said.

He also talked about the present NPA crisis in banks, saying it was “not a big crisis but certainly a challenge” and questioned why the previous government did not take steps to avert the situation.

Intervening in the debate on Motion of Thanks to President’s Address in Rajya Sabha, Jaitley rejected Rahul
Gandhi’s charge that the government has “given away” the benefits of previous years on Pakistan, saying “We are
compelling Pakistan for first time to own up that attack in India is taking place from their land.”

To hit back, he attacked previous UPA government by raking up the ‘Sharm el-Sheikh’ episode, saying “you agreed to hold talks with Pakistan irrespective of whether terrorism stops or not.”

In his 45-minute speech, Jaitley said, “This is the time when we don’t need obstructive democracy. Our approach will have to be to work together. This is the spirit with which this government needs to function.”

Reacting to charges made by Rahul Gandhi on various issues, including the government not passing the benefit of reduction in crude oil prices to consumers, Jaitley took a dig at the Congress Vice President, saying the “most dangerous calculation is the one done at the back of an envelope”.

File photo of Arun Jaitley and Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File photo of Arun Jaitley and Rahul Gandhi. PTI

He told the Congress benches in the Upper House, of which Rahul is not a member, that “somebody has convinced your leader (Rahul) to do all accounting on the back of an envelope”. Rahul is a member of Lok Sabha.

Defending the decision of not passing the entire benefit of reducing oil prices to consumers, the Finance Minister said while a major part has been passed on to consumers, some has been given to loss-making oil companies and part invested in infrastructure-creation especially in rural areas.

Pointing to the shrinking world economy due to the crisis, the Finance Minister said, “This is the period when we need cooperation of all political groups. We are in the midst of a situation where we are fighting a global economic slowdown. The global economy is shrinking. The new norm now is volatility and uncertainty. We need to create firewalls to protect our economy.”

Answering to opposition’s criticism on a range of issues, he claimed that there is an overall improvement in security, price rise, foreign policy during this government and debunked the attack on the issue of intolerance.

“You talk about intolerance. During Delhi polls, a news about attacks on religious places of a particular community
was played up and an image was created the world over that it was political atrocity.

“Was it a political conspiracy? When police investigated, they were found to be cases of theft or simple vandalism under the effect of liquor. But you used it during Delhi elections.

“In West Bengal a nun was assaulted and a Bangladeshi was arrested for it. This happened in a state (not ruled by BJP), but you gave it a political colour.

“Today the debate on intolerance is who will be the chairman of an institution. I have read history and remember
that when a singer did not sing in a Youth Congress programme, he was debarred from AIR,” he said.

Jaitley also talked about the Ishrat Jahan case in an veiled manner to target Congress, accusing it of “unbarring”
the national security apparatus as it wanted to “fix” a political leader (Narendra Modi).

Asserting that it was not simply a case of changing the affidavit in the Ishrat Jahan case, he said the UPA government changed the composition of SIT on a couple of occasions.

“In the process, you unbarred the entire security apparatus of India because you wanted to fix a political leader,” he said, adding that “some day an investigation will take place on how internal security was played with”.

Jaitley said “We obviously belong to different ideological formulations and all of us have a right to believe that my own road map is the best to keep this country together.”

Underlining that unity of the country is “paramount”, the senior minister referred to the JNU incident and said, “if we have to keep this country together, then obviously we have to make sure that the space for those who speak in the break up of this country, itself, that space if not narrowed down, it should be completely eliminated.

“But in the name of freedom of thought, freedom of expression, I have no hesitation in saying that both my party
and the government are absolutely clear that anybody who raises a voice against the sovereignty and integrity of India, we are certainly against them. We will discourage them and we will ask the law to take its own course.

“I would urge members that rather than come out with subsequent explanations that we don’t agree with them, they
should be one in denouncing such activities as we have seen,” he said.

Jaitley said Congress has been a mainstream party and was personally very surprised to see it supporting a ‘fringe’.

With regard to questions asked in London on JNU and Hyderabad University, he said “you can have people who have concern for some of the activities that happened there, but most people in this country, an overwhelming majority does not support the idea of eulogising those who in your state blasted the city of Mumbai in 1993.

“To organise some event in support of those people who symbolised that destruction or for that matter throwing up the idea of breaking this country into pieces.”

Insisting that “Nobody has anything against a particular student (Kanhaiya) who was arrested”, Jaitley said, “But then people have a right of free speech, but people don’t have a right of free speech to advocate the break up of this country.

Therefore, where does the threat to unity and integrity and the country come.

“I expect mainstream political parties like Congress to be in the forefront of being against these people. Please don’t do anything that lends respectability to such people,” he said.

Jaitley said the high point of the debate is that issues of corruption and scams were not raised. “If members have to struggle to invent an element of corruption it speaks volumes on how the environment in this country has changed.”