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Jaitley has moved from black money to blackmail: Chidambaram

Congress leader P Chidambaram on Friday termed as “blackmail” his Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s comment that revealing the names of those who had stashed black money in foreign banks would embarrass the Congress. “I don’t expect Arun Jaitley to make a trivial comment. He’s the finance minister of India. He’s not likely to make a trivial comment, but I think the purpose of that comment was to move from black money to what a friend of mine said ‘blackmail’,” Chidambaram said in an interview to NDTV.

He claimed much of the work on the issue of black money was done by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, while the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was reaping the rewards.

Chidambaram said the NDA government’s affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on the issue of black money “clearly was a U-turn on the position the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) had taken”. He recounted how the BJP had criticised it when the UPA government had told the court under bilateral agreements, India couldn’t be asked to disclose the names until charges were filed or prosecution was launched. “In fact, I remember a statement by then (prime ministerial) candidate Narendra Modi on February 17, when he said the finance minister was paying lip service to the cause and that when he came to power, they would disclose the names and bring back the black money in 100 days. So, nobody got the BJP wrong. The BJP does not have the grace to admit it did a U-turn, but that’s for the people to judge.”

He said the NDA government’s position in court, as well as that of the UPA government, was “the only right position you can take if you don’t want to jeopardise your bilateral treaties”. The former finance minister also faulted the claim of his successor, Jaitley, that the UPA government hadn’t disclosed any names. “We disclosed 18 names to the Supreme Court and the court asked us to give those names to (lawyer) Jethamalani…those names were given to Jethamalani. Those are the only cases where prosecution or charges have been launched,” he said.

He added it was because of his efforts that the G20 final declaration had a paragraph on sharing information, specifically directed towards Switzerland and similar tax havens. “In fact, the Swiss, who usually attend the summit by invitation, conveniently absented themselves in the last meeting,” he said.

An order on constituting an SIT (special investigation team) on the issue was passed by the Supreme Court on May 1, he said, adding after the elections, he had told his officers a decision on this must be left to the next government. Chidambaram also claimed he hadn’t seen the list of people with foreign bank accounts. “I did not ask to see, nor was I shown, the names. So, I don’t know the names there. But if there is a name of a former minister, it will embarrass that person,” he said, adding these were individual transgressions, individual violations of the law. “The individual should be embarrassed, why should the party be embarrassed?” he asked.

The Congress leader refused to comment on the land deals of Robert Vadra, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. On whether Vadra’s land deals created a perception problem for the party, he said, “Maybe it did. I don’t know”

Chidambaram said the UPA government had started the process of deregulating diesel, apart from its last step of making it market-priced. On the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), he said he “seriously question(ed), and I strongly criticise, this issue of the government that it will consign it to 200 backward districts. I’ll tell you why. MGNREGA was not a programme to eliminate backwardness. It was a programme to eliminate hunger. There are hungry people in backward districts. There are people who will go hungry in the so-called non-backward districts. Now, you are missing the central purpose of MGREGA.”

On the Congress party leadership, he said he “would urge the Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) or vice-president (Rahul Gandhi) to speak more. I would urge them to come and address more rallies or urge them to meet the media”. He said Sonia Gandhi and Rahul were the most acceptable leaders in the Congress. “That doesn’t mean other leaders cannot or should not emerge. This is a large country. This is the country with 26 states. There must be other leaders who would emerge, firstly at the state level, and then at the national level,” he said.

On whether someone not from the Gandhi family could be Congress president, he said, “I think so. Someday, yes.”

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