Former finance minister P Chidambaram of the Congress on Friday took a dig at his successor, current finance minister Arun Jaitley of the BJP, over the vexed issue of retrospective taxation, saying it was because of Jaitley's insistence on an amendment that he could not go ahead with his plans.
During a book launch in New Delhi that brought the two into debate, Chidambaram said, "I felt let down when Arun Jaitley did not repeal the retrospective tax amendment of 2012 despite the [BJP's] clear majority in Parliament. I could not do it because we did not have the numbers."
Jaitley replied that he had given a clear assurance that there would be no retrospective amendment in future, and that no notices would be issued by the taxman in this regard.
He said his the government could not repeal such taxation as there was a pending dispute - an apparent reference to arbitration with Vodafone, slapped with a Rs20,000-crore retrospective tax bill - and any amendment would be misconstrued by people as sacrificing the national interest.
Taking a dig at the supposedly 'Hindutva' agenda of the Narendra Modi government, Chidambaram said, ''Try as they might, I don't think they can really destroy or dispense with consensus. But things have to be redefined from time to time.
"You can't govern on a purely divisive and right wing agenda, a Hindutva agenda. One has to evolve a new consensus, and much of that has to borrow from Jawaharlal Nehru [Inddia's first prime minister]. You cannot destroy the consensus evolved," he said.
Jaitley replied, "Some economic policies may not be relevant, some security issues are not relevant. We have to evolve new kind of policy."
On the reasons for the economic downswing during the last years of the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Chidambaram said it was due to "some mistakes", but "mostly global events".
Jaitley riposted that if Chidambaram had taken the right steps, the economic slide could have been reined in.
There were some further repartees – mostly of a blame-game nature – but moderator Karan Thapar ensured it never got beyond verbal sparring.