Arun Shourie's Criticism - How Valid Is It?

Diagnosing the Problem - Arun Shourie (Courtesy The Hans India)
Since yesterday evening there are words and acrimonious exchanges flying thick and fast within and without the right wing sphere. Much brouhaha has to do with Arun Shourie's 'criticism' of the Narendra Modi led government, and many Adarsh Liberal Presstitutes have been trying to give a spin to what he said (and did not say) to imply that there was nothing but bluster for Modi. Irony could die a thousand deaths because the very same bunch of people derided him for attacking holy cows of secularism in the past; such hypocrisy is indeed hard to miss. However, there are several layers of subtext that most people have conveniently ignored, especially if one has been following Arun Shourie's assessments over the past year.

Arun Shourie has criticized the government on economic reforms repeatedly. His repeated diagnosis has been that not enough is being done to free the economy. Now it is no secret that the pace of reforms of this government has not been up to the desired mark. However, his points of criticism were and still are primarily restricted to certain key issues - ending tax terrorism, unnecessary political engagement on land acquisition bills, freeing up of the banking sector through reform, appointment and autonomy, and letting public sector companies realize their true worth through the divestment (direct or through holding company method) so that asset capital can be mobilized. In these respects, Mr Shourie has been consistent, and in my own assessment these are things that need redress.

While it is no secret that I do not think much ground has been lost in the fight for the land acquisition amendment, there has been considerable political energy spent in getting through a bill that even sections of the ruling alliance could not digest despite their state governing units saying otherwise. The government did get some things going, like amendments in the Apprentice Act. R Jagannathan has noted how rectification and progress within India's power sector, transparent coal block allocations and even movement within the road and railways sectors has generated enough praise across the board. However, current stalemates to be seen across this particular problem is entirely self-created. Mr Arun Shourie has repeatedly and rightly said that Parliament is not needed for getting the land issue resolved, and economic corridors can easily be created, provided that governments there are friendly and eager to do so. If labour law amendments can be accepted by the Union government as was the case with Rajasthan, there is no reason why the same strategy cannot be adopted for land reforms. .

It is no secret that many public sector companies lie leaderless in this country, and that has impacted their performance. Public sector banks in particular have been victim to this rudderless steering, and cronyism prevailed through much of the past decade of UPA rule. This government launched INDRADHANUSH, the seven step banking reform programme, with much fanfare in August this year, and that is one good step in the right direction; however the ineptness of the finance ministry was evident when within days of appointing outsiders as directors, Arun Jaitley announced a freeze on lateral hiring. In the name of divestment you cannot force Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India to continue investing in rubbish FPOs.

On the tax terrorism issue, much effort is being spent on issuing stupid notices and fighting useless battles in courts and appellate tribunals even now in an effort to boost revenues. As the economist Omkar Goswami rightly pointed out in the book Getting India Back on Track, our effective tax-GDP ratio is already above 30%, thanks to state levies and duties that are never accounted in central fiscal figures, making us one of the most taxed economies. Thus to discover new money (unless hoardes of black money comes back somehow) is not going to be possible in the near future. Instead, ensuring appointments and autonomy in the public sector companies, banks and enterprises through a holding company pattern could help raise far more capital. However, not much has been done by this government except announcements and cabinet approvals.

Another area where Mr Shourie said the government has failed has been the perceived atmosphere of hatred and minority persecution. Mind you, Mr Shourie has repeatedly used the term perceived about it, and has said that the government needs to say much more. However, as R Jagannathan of Firstpost and Swarajya has noted, despite Prime Minister's repeated statements, there has been an attempt to vitiate the atmosphere by harebrained personnel within several media houses. Also, another points of observation made by him was the absence of enough empowered personnel within the government - political and bureaucratic. However, he has noted in the past how we generally have a lack of administrative talent and performing bureaucrats across the board in government. So on this he should have some patience or exhort the government to rely on talent present but unutilized within the BJP like Yashwant Sinha, other Chief Ministers like Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Vasundhara Raje, and push for lateral recruitment within ministries for key administrative and bureaucratic positions instead of just talking about it.

Much has been said about his analogy of this government with the Congress+Cow epithet and his jocular vein on Dr Manmohan Singh being fondly recalled. However, sometimes it takes style to get attention to key points, and Mr Shourie has also in the past repeatedly criticized the Congress, United Progressive Alliance and even Dr Manmohan Singh for being absolutely ineffectual. Overreading the tea leaves only causes dizziness, and acerbic wit has essentially been misread by a bunch of intellectual pygmies as much more than scathing criticism. An old saying by Chanakya goes that keep those who praise you close and keep those who criticize you even closer to your self, and this government would do well to reach out to him and his prescriptions for serious consideration and action. Narendra Modi needs to perform as promised and not get distracted by unnecessary distractions by stamping his touch, which many people today miss.


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