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Indian Finance Minister Skirts Media Questions on Economy, But Slams Gandhi's 'Rape in India' Remark

© AFP 2023 / SAJJAD HUSSAINIn this photograph taken on April 9, 2019, Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaks with an AFP reporter at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi
In this photograph taken on April 9, 2019, Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaks with an AFP reporter at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi - Sputnik International
New Delhi (Sputnik): India’s Gross Domestic Product growth touched a six-year low at 4.5% in the July-September quarter, while retail inflation shot up to a three-year high of 5.54% in November, jeopardising any chances of an interest rate cut.

Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday chose to duck media questions in a special press conference designed to present a report card on economy.

Instead, she entertained a political question about a controversial remark by Rahul Gandhi, a key politician in the main opposition party Congress.

Sitharaman, who features in the latest Forbes’ 100 most powerful women list, was seen answering in monosyllables on GDP, inflation, and interest rates.

She, however, preferred going into a detailed answer when asked to respond to Gandhi’s recent “Rape in India” remark.

Calling Gandhi’s remarks horrendous, Finance Minister Sitharaman said, “It is a matter of shame that a senior leader of the Congress party speaks while forgetting the dignity of women.”

Gandhi made the remark on Thursday during an election campaign in the Indian state of Jharkhand accusing the Narendra Modi government of failing to ensure safety of women referring to the Hyderabad and Unnao cases where victims were raped and burnt.

“Narendra Modi had said ‘Make in India’ but nowadays wherever you look, it is 'Rape in India," Gandhi said.

From a high of 8.2 percent in April-June quarter of 2018, India’s growth has fallen to 4.5 percent. Asked when the Indian economy would pick up after a number of measures including a corporate tax cut, Sitharaman curtly said: “Not engaging in any predictions.”

Economist and former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan recently argued in an article in Indian magazine that the government should not “jump immediately to permanent tax cut for urban middle class”. Being asked to react on Rajan’s criticism, Sitharaman simply said, “O Raghuram Rajan…” 

Sitharaman hinted last week that the government is considering an income tax cut among economic measures.

Rajan was appointed top banker by the Congress in 2013. He is a former economist of the International Monetary Fund and faced a stinging attack from Sitharaman in October this year for the RBI’s failure to identify the rise in non-performing assets in the banking system during his tenure.  

Similarly, on a question on rising inflation and whether it will continue rising in 2020, Sitharaman said:  “There are a lot of ifs in that question. I may not be able to engage in speculations on interest rates on inflation.”

On Thursday, Finance Minister Sitharaman was positioned on the 34th spot in the Forbes’ 16th annual ranking of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. She was among the 23 women making their debut on the 2019 World’s Most Powerful Women list.

Forbes ranking represent women in six classifications - business, finance, technology, media & entertainment, politics & policy, and philanthropy.

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