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Sounded like Modi govt's final budget, 'failing grade' on improving lives of common people: Shashi Tharoor

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New Delhi, Feb 1 (PTI) "Picture abhi baki hai," senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor asserted on Thursday as he rejected the BJP's claims that the 2024 poll results are a foregone conclusion, and said the interim Union budget sounded like the Modi government's final.

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Criticising Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for describing GDP as governance, development and performance, Tharoor said that under this dispensation 'G' stands for for governmental intrusion and tax terrorism, 'D' for demographic betrayal and 'P' for poverty and rising inequality.

Terming the interim Union budget "disappointing", Tharoor said the omissions were startling with unemployment completely escaping the finance minister's speech. The government gets a "failing grade" on the count of improving the lives of the common person, he said.

"Inflation, particularly of food items, has been so shocking that people at the bottom 20 per cent are unable to buy in the bazaar what they could buy a year or two ago. That is a lived reality of the ordinary Indian which is why the government wants them to vote out of pride for a Ram mandir or out of pride for bashing Pakistan on Balakot, Pulwama...that is what they did last time in 2019," he said in an interview at the PTI headquarters here.

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"This time it is going to be Ram mandir and no doubt the Abu Dhabi mandir is going to be added to the mix. That frankly is not what governments are elected to do, governments are elected to improve the lot of the common man and woman. Has this government done that? I would say on that particular yardstick, they get a failing grade," he said.

Asked about Sitharaman's remarks that in the full budget in July, the government will present a detailed roadmap for "our pursuit" of a 'Viksit Bharat' and the BJP's claims that the result of the 2024 elections was a forgone conclusion, Tharoor said, "Picture abhi baki hai' that is the obvious line." The votes can't be counted until they are cast and votes have to be cast when the time comes, the Thiruvananthapuram MP said.

Tharoor asserted there is still time for the opposition to get its act together and for people to let the "sheen of the Ram mandir and the other kind of identity appeals wear off and to confront their own economic realities".

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Asked about the Congress' concerns on economy not finding electoral resonance with the BJP winning the last round of polls, Tharoor said their experience in south has been different from that in north.

In the north, despite the disastrous demonetisation of 2016, people got swayed by the talks about Pulwama, Balakot, and the "56 inch chest" to stop Pakistanis and voted against their own economic interests, he said.

"The BJP be banking on people once again saying that 'doesn't matter that 'jeb mein paise nahi hain', we will vote for Ram Mandir'... Let us see if that works or not. I am not willing to concede the election until it is over. I want to bring this message to people that it is your own economic reality that ought to be uppermost in your mind," he said.

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Criticising the Union budget, Tharoor said it sounded like their "final budget".

There is no question that this is a government that has "completely run out of ideas", Tharoor said. "They have essentially given us a whole bunch of rhetoric." "One word we did not hear and that escaped the finance minister's lips was unemployment. We have a situation where she talks about empowering youth and yet 45.4 per cent of youth are unemployed in the country," Tharoor said.

The finance minister talking about foreign investment going up is simply not true, as foreign investment from a peak of 3.6 per cent of the GDP under the UPA has dropped to one per cent of the GDP, he said.

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On the government's assertion that it will come out with a white paper on the mismanagement of economy prior to 2014 with an aim to draw lessons, Tharoor said they are going to do "very good selective number calculations".

"No one trust their numbers. Look at NITI Aayog that claimed that 24 crore people have been pulled out of poverty, they have completely changed all baselines to come up with a conclusion like this. In fact, the UPA government did pull out a 140 million people from poverty which is undisputed worldwide because their parameters were well-known," the former Union minister said.

"For the first time, our numbers are derided and considered unreliable," Tharoor said, adding that earlier India used to have trusted statistics.

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On Sitharaman's remarks that the saturation approach of covering all eligible people is secularism in action, Tharoor said, "I was bemused by her saying that the trinity of democracy, demography and diversity is going to be the calling card of India." "Demography, we have seen the betrayal of the youth of this country...Democracy, sadly the intimidation of the opposition has reached a new peak now with the arrest of a chief minister," he said.

"I am sorry to say diversity was one of our greatest strengths and respected around the world. Today you pick up any newspaper abroad and all you now read about is assault on the minorities... whether it is Christian churches being attacked during Christmas time, whether it is the repeated otherisation of Muslims whether it is bulldozers being unleashed somehow only against Muslim-owned shops and so on. There is an ongoing assault on our diversity," he alleged.

Tharoor also slammed the government citing that India's ranking had gone down on indices such as global hunger index, press freedom index, happiness index and global economic freedom index. PTI ASK ASK TIR TIR

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