Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters, he dismissed 18 questions raised by senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha against him and stressed that economic fundamentals have strengthened during the past 20 months.
    
"Business is quite comfortable with Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA finance ministers but there are sections of businesses which are extremely comfortable with Mr Narendra Modi because his brand of capitalism is crony capitalism," he said.

Replying to questions on a whole range of issues during an hour-long interaction with the media, Chidambaram said the government would consider relaxing restrictions on gold imports in consultation with the Reserve Bank after its monetary policy announcement tomorrow.

On the contentious issue of the gas price hike, he said there was no obligation on the Oil Ministry to seek the Election Commission's nod on a Cabinet decision and added it was done only as matter of abundant caution.

Drawing a comparison of key parameters under the UPA and NDA regimes, Chidambaram said GDP growth plummeted to the lowest ever of four percent in 2002-03 during the NDA period.

On the other hand, he added that the country achieved the highest economic growth rate of 9.3 percent in 2007-08, which was a watershed year.
    
Referring to Sinha's comments that the stock market rose after Chidambaram announced that he would not contest the elections, the Finance Minister said, "I think the celebrations began when Mr Yashwant Sinha declined to contest elections and the celebrations are continuing.”

"Now that the BJP is doing a number of things like expelling Jaswant Singh. Celebrations are continuing now. Even today, the market celebrated,” he added.

Raising the pitch of attack on Modi, Chidambaram said, "It is no longer BJP led by Modi. It is BJP supplanted by Modi. These are dangerous things that people of India must watch carefully. If party, democracy, republic, cabinet, government, everything is supplanted by one individual, then it is dangerous."
    
Referring to economic issues, he said, "The economy today is far more stable and far stronger than what it was 20 months ago and what we fear may happen has not happened. And going forward, I can only see spirited growth in the economy, provided the next government adheres to the 10-point agenda that I have outlined in my interim budget."
    
Chidambaram, who has opted out of the elections, asserted that the next Finance Minister would not be of Modi’s choice.

“I will keep a firm hand on the wheel till the last day and I will hand over the wheel to a firm hand,” he added.
    
Chidambaram said the government has been able to contain the fiscal deficit and the current account deficit (CAD).  

"Our reserves today have crossed USD 300 billion. We expect to add USD 25 billion by end of today to our reserves. And CAD, which is originally estimated at under USD 60 billion, is now likely to be much smaller. Perhaps about USD 35 billion...Nobody talks about a downgrade anymore, the fundamentals have strengthened," he added.

On the 18 questions raised by Sinha, Chidambaram said, "Many of them are quite puerile questions. Mr Sinha today is a distant memory for the people of India and I hope he remains where he is -- a distant memory."

Accusing Chidambaram of playing "spoiler" and "ruining" the economy, Sinha had sought replies on issues such as declining growth, rising inflation and a poor track record on job creation.

(JPN/Agencies)

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