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Baseless Criticism

To say that Arun Shourie’s recent comments during a TV interview have kicked up a hornet’s nest is a major understatement. Shourie’s scathing comments about the Modi government being directionless strikes a majority of seasoned political commentators as a classic case of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’. There is no doubt about the intellectual capabilities of Shourie. He is a veteran journalist and a formidable ideologue. Having said that, Shourie’s analysis of the present government’s policy priorities does not stand up to closer scrutiny.Firstly, Shourie’s allegations can be deemed as having merit only when the facts support his assertions. What is extremely relevant, in this case, is whether Shourie’s analysis of this present government’s economic policies is an accurate one. First, it’s rather ironic that Shourie is sermonising the government on frugality and clear thinking. His track record as an erstwhile minister for disinvestment does not show him as either frugal or clear thinking. The CAG’s report issued in 2006 had severely indicted his disinvestment exercises as having directly caused grave losses to the public exchequer.During his stint as disinvestment minister the valuation of the public companies’ assets was done without due seriousness and many of his detractors allege recklessly. This is what the CAG report clearly states. Like a rich man splurging recklessly at a Diwali card party, Shourie too gifted away key public sector undertakings for a pittance. This is sad because India is not a rich country with a large number of public assets to give away as Shourie did. The facts attest to Shourie’s nonchalance during the disinvestment process. During 2004-2006, Shourie had chosen to dismiss detractors of his disinvestment policies as armchair critics. Was this a patronising dismissal of a coherent counter-factual? It seems so. Shourie’s stint as a key government functionary was marked by solid support for his zealous agenda of disinvestment. Yet, he failed to deliver the desired results. Shourie’s 13 months in the ministry were rather dismal according to leading economic experts. In 2000-1, disinvestment was less than 20 per cent of the year’s - target: a paltry Rs.1,868 crore against the declared target of Rs.10,000 crore. The Bharat Aluminium Corporation Ltd (BALCO) was the only major company to be privatised during that period but even that shoddy disinvestment created enough of an uproar to paralyse the NDA government completely. Moreover, Shourie’s affinity for big corporate houses is well known. He is known to be especially fond of Reliance. Given that he is so corporate friendly perhaps it’s not surprising that he thinks that the present government’s policy priorities are directionless. After all Big Business and Welfare schemes rarely go hand in hand. The Bharatiya Janata Party, in particular, has been critical of Shourie’s pro-American remarks. In the course of his interview with Karan Thapar, Shourie said that the Americans are getting impatient- Whose interests is he serving?
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