Arun Shourie has fired a volley of shots across Narendra Modi’s bows days before the government’s first anniversary.
Shourie, who was Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s blue-eyed boy as a disinvestment minister in his government, alleged that Modi’s economic policy was “directionless”, investments had not picked up and the “Make in India” concept would not take off unless labour reforms were ushered in, and debunked as “hyperbole” the claim of a projected 10 per cent growth rate.
Modi’s monogrammed suit and “silence” on minority concerns also drew criticism.
The economist-turned-editor-turned-author spoke his mind in an interview with Karan Thapar on the news channel, Headlines Today.
Shourie claimed that the triumvirate of Modi, Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley had “offended” the Opposition and “frightened” party members.
The view was endorsed, albeit silently, by BJP officials who privately said their lips were sealed ever since Shah became the party president. “We were dying to speak out after we lost the Delhi elections. The fear of Shah forced us to keep mum,” a party official said.
Shourie charged the trio with creating problems, attempting to resolve them and in the process “making things worse and worse”.
He had not opened his mouth in all these months, despite his proven penchant for verbally shredding the BJP leadership. Shourie does not hold a position in the BJP.
However, during interviews in the immediate aftermath of the BJP’s electoral triumph, he had given an impression that he looked forward to working directly in the government or in an allied structure.
Nobody in the BJP could tell for sure what Modi thought of Shourie. But it is perceived that even if Modi wished to induct Shourie, others “at the top” reportedly advised him about the pitfalls of taking in an outspoken person who might be a handful to handle.
BJP insiders fear that while they can fend off similar charges levelled by the Opposition, Shourie’s diatribes could not be dismissed airily, especially because he “still inspires awe in certain opinion-makers”.
Shourie’s articulation also coincides with murmurs among a section of industrialists that the Modi government has not done much on the reforms front.
While Shourie conceded foreign policy was Prime Minister Modi’s “great success”, he critiqued him for a “lack of clarity and even contradictions” on Pakistan and for “marginalising” foreign minister Sushma Swaraj.
Shourie added that the pin-striped, monogrammed suit Modi wore during President Barack Obama’s visit in January was “inexplicable”, “incomprehensible” and a “critical mistake”.
He was as disapproving of Modi’s “silence” on concerns among the minorities over conversions and stressed that when a former high-ranking police officer like Julio Ribeiro “speaks in anguish, you have to listen”.
The retired IPS officer had written in The Indian Express in March that “I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country”.
Shourie was not the government’s only internal or quasi-internal baiter.
The BJP national executive member and RSS favourite, Subramanian Swamy, warned that unless Modi ordered a probe into the acquisition of SpiceJet airlines by Ajay Singh, a party sympathiser, he would move court “very soon”.
“I will continue bombarding the Prime Minister with letters until he acts,” Swamy told.
His contention was that the deal between Singh, who was SpiceJet’s original promoter in 2004, and the Marans of the DMK political family who had bought the airline in 2010 was opaque.
Swamy’s principal charges were that the share transaction was clinched at “arbitrarily low and dud prices” and if the idea was to resurrect the “ailing” SpiceJet and protect its assets, Air India could have taken it over.
Swamy had threatened to legally challenge Modi’s commitment to buy the Rafale combat aircraft from France. “There is no need for me to do that because my original objection was against the purchase of 126 planes. That didn’t happen. He (the Prime Minister) went to sign but didn’t,” he said.
To compound the government’s discomfiture, Ram Jethmalani released a half-page advertorial in a Delhi paper on April 28, titled, “My frustration about repatriation of black money and contempt for this unpardonable betrayal”.
Jethmalani, expelled by the BJP in 2013 for attacking Nitin Gadkari who then helmed the party, fired off 12 questions at Jaitley, insinuating, among other suggestions, that the finance minister had “more than normal cordial relations with (P) Chidambaram” and, therefore, never faulted his predecessor for not recovering black money.
Asked about the bombardment of the veterans, BJP spokesperson and media cell chief Srikant Sharma said: “For the past 10 years, we lived with such attacks and fought them back too.”
Sharpshooters like Jethmalani do not have a political constituency but their torment quotient had been proved earlier.
Ironically, Jethmalani’s multiple-question tactic is something the BJP is all too familiar with – but from the non-business end of the gun. In the 1980s at the height of the Bofors scandal, Jethmalani used to serve up a daily dose of 10 questions for Rajiv Gandhi in The Indian Express, the newspaper that was edited by Shourie then.