Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday told historian Ramachandra Guha not to worry about the economy as it is in “safe hands”. Sitharaman’s comments came after a long debate on Twitter in which Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also weighed in.

The debate was set off after Guha had tweeted a quote from British writer Philip Spratt comparing Gujarat, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, and West Bengal. Quoting Spratt, Guha tweeted, “Gujarat, though economically advanced, is culturally a backward province...Bengal in contrast is economically backward but culturally advanced.”

Describing Spratt as “an Englishman who became an Indian as well as a communist who became a free market liberal”, Guha clarified in another tweet that he doesn’t necessarily endorse the quotes that he posts. “Reserve your praise or your anger for the ghost of the person being quoted,” he had said.

However, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani responded to Guha’s tweets, and said these were tricks to divide Indians. “Earlier it was the British who tried to divide and rule,” he wrote. “Now it is a group of elites who want to divide Indians.”

Guha sarcastically retorted that Gujarat was “indeed in safe hands” since the chief minister is “so keenly following the tweets of a humdrum historian and so easily confusing the historian with a dead writer being quoted”.

Later in the day, Sitharaman also joined in. She shared an article published in September 2018 about the Poland government organising an event to honour Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji Jadeja for providing shelter to 1,000 Polish children during World War II. Jadeja was the former king of Jamnagar. “In 1939, when Philip Spratt, from Britain, belonging to the Communist International wrote, (who @Ram_Guha quotes) this was what was happening in Gujarat: Jamnagar... Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji Jadeja... saved 1,000 Polish children #Culture,” she wrote.

Guha again responded by sarcastically saying that the “economy is surely in safe hands” since the finance minister is also “obsessing about a humdrum historian’s tweets”.

Later, Sitharaman said “taking cognisance of thoughts in current national discourse + responsibly doing my job aren’t mutually exclusive”. She assured Guha that the economy was in safe hands.

The debate ended with Guha’s parting shot: “I have been trying without success for thirty years to make the writer Philip Spratt better known; thank you to the Troll Army for accomplishing this in a day.”

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has dealt a heavy blow to the Indian economy. Lakhs of migrant workers in India were left jobless by the lockdown imposed on March 25.

India’s economic growth rate stood at 3.1% for the fourth quarter of 2019-’20, according to data the government released last month. In the October to December 2019 quarter, the country’s economic growth stood at 4.7% – a seven-year low. However, the final figures released for the third quarter showed that India’s GDP grew at 4.1% during October to December last year.

The Opposition has repeatedly criticised the Centre for failing to address the problems of suffering migrant workers and said that the government’s economic packages were insufficient. Last month, the party had called a meeting of several Opposition parties to discuss the Centre’s measures to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis.

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