Arun Shourie: A case of sour grapes, really

Those jumping with joy at Arun Shourie’s no-holds-barred criticism of the Modi Government clearly do not know the man well enough. Nor do they seem to appreciate the huge difficulties and rebuffs when a government seeks to prod a lumbering giant to speed up. Governments are gargantuan behemoths moving ever so slowly, if at all. Change comes invariably at a glacial pace. Yes, Modi had aroused huge hopes before he moved to 7 RCR. His promise of ‘acchae din’ was an election-winner. Indeed, if you have not heard the word scam since May 26 last year it can be counted as one big change from the past. But people take these things for granted. What a government gives is taken for granted, but what it does not, or is unable to provide immediately, is toted up against it. Tepid reaction to the performance of the Modi Government stems from that ingrained habit. That the consumer price inflation is under control despite unseasonal rains too is a positive. Also, consumers are beneficiaries of the drop in the global prices of crude and commodities. Add to that a number of incremental changes to make the economy efficient. Linking payments to the Aadhar card is a huge step forward to stop the leakages of subsidies on food, fertilizers, fuel and other such schemes. Enormous savings to the taxpayers are set to flow from this one single reform.

Despite the lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha, the Government pushed through the insurance and mine Bills. The huge proceeds from the auction of coal blocks and spectrum redound to its credit, and, by contrast, speak volumes of the previous loot-and-scoot regime. Both current and revenue deficits are under control. The economy is on course to grow at a healthy 7.5 to 8 percent rate this financial year. Yes, the Government has failed to resolve at one go the old disputes over the retrospective tax, but this can be ascribed to its reluctance to intervene,  lest that provides a handle to critics to paint it as corporate-friendly. If anything, Modi has consciously shifted the focus to the poor and the underprivileged. New schemes for the poor such as highly subsidized insurance and pension were announced in the first full budget of the Government. Admittedly, a number of steps have already been taken to facilitate the ease of doing business but more is needed. Countless permissions required to start a business are now being compressed into a single window, single application affair. Granted, the HRD Ministry ought to have avoided some of the controversies, but, then, making education purposeful and employment-focused is a huge challenge and would need a complete transformation of the sector from the primary to the university levels. Granted too that there has been avoidable dissonance in the polity due to the attention-grabbing remarks of unreconstructed members of the Sangh parivar. But, happily, the year has been free from communal strife. Modi has also succeeded in raising the profile of India in the comity of nations. His frequent forays into the foreign policy domain have been most successful, though eventual outcomes can be measured only from the follow-up implementation of agreements and memorandums signed.

Now, about Shourie. Of course, there can be no denying his depth of scholarship, his capacity to master intricate detail about men and matters. But he finds it extremely hard to delink his personal ambition from his public persona.  Indeed, his ambition dictates his public posture. A wholly self-centered man, had he been a part of the Government, we have no doubt, he would have praised it to the skies for its performance.  Both in his journalistic and political careers, Shourie’s actions have been solely determined by his felt need to pitchfork himself in the centre of things. Despite his desperation to become a minister, somehow he failed to find a place in the Cabinet. Last May, having taken his appointment as Finance Minster for granted, he had most gratuitously announced the steps he intended taking to mend the economy on a couple of friendly television channels. In sum, what Shourie says and does is undermined by the undeniable fact that what matters to Arun Shourie is Arun Shourie — everything else is secondary. Therefore, take his criticism of the Modi Government with more than a pinch of salt. It is a case of sour grapes.

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