Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed on Sunday to continue his economic reforms and asserted that the Indian economy is on the right track, defending his government’s major steps such as the demonetisation drive, and the goods and services tax.
His remarks are aimed at deflecting the Opposition’s flak after the economy decelerated to a three-year low of 5.7% in the quarter ended September.
“After all the reforms and hardcore decisions, the economy of the country is on track and is going in the right direction,” Modi said at a rally in Dahej, one of the three places he visited in Gujarat, his home state where assembly polls are due this winter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the maiden voyage of the Ro-Ro ferry service between Ghogha and Dahej in Bhavnagar, Gujarat on Sunday. (PTI)
Modi’s assurance couldn’t cut ice with his rivals, though. As many as 13 opposition parties will meet on Monday to sharpen their strategy for a renewed attack on the government over the economy.
“GST is fast becoming ‘Grossly Scary Tax’ under Modi Govt as 40 lakh assesses fail to file September returns,” tweeted Randeep Surjewala, the Congress’s chief spokesperson.
The parties, led by the Congress, plan protests on November 8 when Modi’s decision to scrap two high-value banknotes in a shock recall completes a year. Programmes are likely to be held to highlight what they called the demonetisation aftershocks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi prays at Ghogha Sea Ferry Point to mark the inauguration of the Ghogha-Dahej Ro-Ro ferry service, in Ghogha in Bhavnagar on Sunday. (PTI)
The opposition parties also accused the government of persuading the Election Commission to delay declaring the poll schedule for Gujarat and help the ruling BJP dole out sops to voters.
Modi, who was Gujarat chief minister since 2001 till he became Prime Minister in 2014, announced a slew of projects for his state on Sunday.
He inaugurated or laid the foundation for projects worth more than Rs 1,600 crore, addressed three public rallies, a road show and took a 31km ferry ride from Ghogha to Dahej, and had lunch with disabled kids onboard the boat.
“The flood of promises from Modi in Gujarat, due to EC’s relief by not announcing the polls. Whither ‘One election?” tweeted CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, referring to Modi’s previous stand seeking simultaneous parliamentary and state elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being welcomed on stage at the public meeting in Ghogha in Gujarat on Sunday. (PTI)
But the theme of Modi’s speeches was economic stability that was meant to address concerns of his state’s large business community after the economy switched to GST this July. Traders are known to back the BJP, which is in power for two decades in Gujarat.
He criticised the Opposition for questioning his visit to the poll-bound state in his speech in Vadodara, where he inaugurated and dedicated several projects.
“Can’t I come to Vadodara after Diwali? Some people don’t like to see me coming here. As they can’t directly tell me anything, they are targeting the Election Commission,” he said.
He defended the projects, saying he was clearing stuck files.
Vadodara is the second constituency he won in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but gave up to retain Varanasi. He dedicated housing, drinking water and fuel pipeline projects among others to the city.
“Those who managed to win (elections) after a recounting are today abusing the EC. They have no moral authority to do so,” he quipped a day after former Union minister P Chidambaram carped at the poll panel for not announcing dates for the Gujarat elections along with Himachal Pradesh, the other state going to the polls this winter.
The Prime Minister also blamed the Congress-led UPA, which ruled the country for a decade before the BJP regained power three years ago, for what he called a backlog of development projects in Gujarat.
At Ghogha in Bhavnagar, where he launched a ferry service, Modi accused the previous UPA government of trying to halt development along the state’s coastline giving environment as an excuse. The sea ferry route cuts 310km by road to 31km.
Gujarat faced difficulties but these “were solved one after another” after he became Prime Minister, he said.
He advocated blending economy with ecology and hailed his government’s signature decisions — demonetisation and GST. He said the fundamentals of the economy are strong and “financial stability of the country will be maintained while initiating reforms”.
The remarks came hours after revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia pitched for some rejig of GST rates to help small and medium enterprises.
Adhia’s comments gave fresh fodder to the opposition parties on the controversial GST rates.
“Now this explains why the Hon PM was so happy to share credit for GST with the Congress. He’s not usually given to sharing credit anywhere,” tweeted Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
BJP parliamentarian Shatrughan Sinha joined the debate too and said: “Some support GST, some don’t. Some support #DeMonetisation some don’t, this doesn’t mean critics are anti-national.”