Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday told the Lok Sabha that economic revival can be achieved in the country, reported The Hindu.

“We have actually managed to bend the [coronavirus pandemic] curve and the revival of the economy can be achieved,” she said. “I want to highlight stimulus plus reform. The situation created by the pandemic did not deter us from attempting reforms.”

“9.67% growth is seen in the allocation to core health,” she said. Sitharaman took a jibe at the Congress, saying that the party should take the credit for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and also for the way it was missed by their cronies, a reference to close relations with capitalists.

“The Congress has two tendencies – one, to give birth to schemes like MGNREGA [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act] and allocate money, and two, to keep the funds unutilised,” she claimed. “The money is also diverted to cronies.”

On PM Svanidhi scheme, Sitharaman said that 15 lakh vendors got funds and neither of them was “our nor your cronies”. She claimed that the Opposition is spreading false narratives. “Our programmes benefit ordinary people,” Sitharaman said. “The Opposition claims we work for cronies but gives a port to one of the people who they claim are our cronies.”

She said that the government had announced several measures to introduce reforms both times – when the self-reliant package was announced and also in the Budget. “This Budget has set the pace for India becoming aatmanirbhar [self-reliant],” Sitharaman said.

The finance minister also said that reforms were riveted in a policy, not in a subjective and knee-jerk fashion “but in a way that would lay the path for India to be a top economy.”

She alleged that poverty reduction happened in India after license raj ended. The license raj was a system of licences and regulations needed to set up businesses in India from 1947 to 1990. The Congress was mostly in power in this period.

“We have to trace the economic history of when we started with an adoring view of socialism,” she continued. “Nationalising institutions between 1948 and 1975 began denigrating Indian businesses.”

Taking a dig at the Congress, Sitharaman said that the party which opened the economy was the same that advocate socialism earlier. “They are trying to own that which they did not implement early,” she said.

She pointed out that respecting Indian entrepreneurial, trade and managerial skills has been important since the days of the Jana Sangh. “We have always believed in the economic strength of India,” Sitharaman said. “Respecting wealth creators, honest taxpayers is a policy we follow. Unless wealth creators generate wealth, the government will not have anything to distribute to the poor.”

The finance minister further justified including water and sanitation in the total allocation for the health sector, adding that there is no reduction in core allocations.

She told the Lower House that the Budget draws from the experience of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat as he saw many revivals happening at that time, reported Mint.

On the Budget allocation for agriculture, the finance minister said that the data regarding the sector was misread. “A total of Rs 1.15 lakh crore has been transferred to 10.75 crore farmers through the PMKSY [Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana].”

Regarding allocation to the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, the Union minister said that the Centre made announcements to address the problems of the sector even during the countrywide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. “Suspension of the IBC [Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code], relaxation of compliance issues, allocation of additional working capital and loans without asking for additional security – these were our measures for the MSME sector.”

The finance minister also targeted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his Budget speech, saying that she was “disappointed” to hear him say that he would not speak on the Budget during a debate and only talk about the farmers’ protest.

“When the ‘foundation’ was being laid for the Budget speech which was not delivered [by Rahul Gandhi], he did not mention the U-turn the Congress made on the farm bills, which they mentioned in the 2019 elections manifesto,” she said.

Sitharaman asked why did the Congress announce farm loan waivers and go back on the promise. The minister said that she was expecting Gandhi to raise the matter of stubble burning and get some relief in Congress-ruled states.

“I expected he would explain why the Congress forgot the statement of Dr Manmohan Singh on farm laws,” she said, listing 10 things she expected the former Congress chief to talk about during his speech. “I expected that Rahul Gandhi would have shown whether even one APMC [Agricultural produce market committee] mandi was shut after the new laws were passed.”

She criticised Gandhi for continuously creating false narratives. “He is constantly indulging in the politics of the fringe and insulting constitutional authorities,” the Union minister said. “He is perhaps becoming the ‘Doomsday Man of India’. I have apprehensions for the Opposition that is in the clutches of this “Doomsday Man of India’.”

On Modi, she said that the prime minister was working for the Dalits, backward and poor people. “People of India believe, have faith in the prime minister,” Sitharaman added.

In the Rajya Sabha

On Friday, Sitharaman responded to Budget debates in the Rajya Sabha, hitting out at the Opposition for creating a “false narrative” that the Centre was only working for “cronies”.

She detailed the Centre’s pro-poor initiatives. “Over 1.67 crore houses were completed under PM Awas Yojana,” Sitharaman said. “Is this for the rich? Over 2.67 crore households were electrified under PM Saubhagya Yojana. Is this for the capitalists?”

Sitharaman also listed the Centre’s efforts to help micro, small and medium enterprises. “The total value of orders placed on the e-market is Rs 8,22,077 crore,” she said. “Are they being given to big capitalists? They’re being given to MSMEs.”

The finance minister also took a swipe at the Congress and said the Narendra Modi-led government’s policies were aimed at helping the poor and farmers and not the “damads [sons-in-law]” of this country. She was referring to Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra. Her remark caused uproar in the House.