New Delhi, Sept. 24: Three years ago, Arun Shourie had quoted Mao Zedong to needle the BJP leadership; today he endorsed Manmohanomics to embarrass the party two days before it begins its national executive and council sessions.
The estranged former BJP minister backed the Prime Minister’s decisions on diesel prices, cooking gas subsidy and retail FDI. Worse, he held up Narendra Modi as proof that “good” economics did not always translate into “bad” politics, implying Manmohan Singh’s recent decisions may not hurt the Congress at the polls.
As Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s divestment minister, Shourie had helped the NDA government implement its only phase of economic reforms in the teeth of BJP and Sangh parivar opposition. Today, he told a TV interviewer that the diesel price hike was necessary.
“I believe that all petroleum prices should be at their scarcity value, because otherwise we are subsidising our import dependence,” he said.
He added that deficits had become “unmanageable” because the government had “disobeyed the reception of the fiscal responsibility legislation and the PM presided over these deficit budgets”.
Shourie further argued that unless petro prices were raised, the viability of alternative energy sources would remain untapped.
On retail FDI, his take was that it was “neither here nor there”.
“These international companies are not going to come. Even if they do, our small shops are going to beat them.... They’ve beaten these big companies that came into retail,” Shourie contended.
He cited how consumers often reject the vegetables, fruits and other perishables sold in Indian retail stores and choose to buy from the neighbourhood “thela wallah” (vendor).
Asked whether economic populism did or did not make good economics, Shourie cited Gujarat again.
“I don’t want to keep quoting the example of Narendra Modi,” he said, “but you’ll regard him as a populist? He’s delivering services. Why can’t we learn from that example?”
According to Gandhinagar’s political grapevine, Modi “secretly” admires Shourie for his “combination of intellect and pragmatism”.
However, during his current Assembly election campaign, Modi is for the first time wooing Gujarat’s poor with overtly populist promises and schemes. He has also been parroting the official party line on how foreign retailers would do small traders out of business and cause job losses.
Asked about Mamata Banerjee’s staunch opposition to the LPG subsidy reduction, Shourie said: “Why not contrast (it with) what Gujarat has achieved? They are charging for power and they are delivering power. Everybody pays for medical services, (the) education cess has been increased, but services are being delivered.”
When the interviewer asked why the BJP couldn’t learn from Modi, Shourie said: “That you may ask the BJP.”
He went on to mention the example of another former chief minister, Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon of Punjab, saying he delivered services without resorting to populism.
The BJP refused to respond. Veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, the party’s biggest proponent of “swadeshi” economics, described Shourie’s views as “personal” and stressed the party would not change or dilute its stand against FDI in multi-brand retail.
BJP sources cited how party president Nitin Gadkari had already directed his colleagues not to let the three-day executive and council session be marred by infighting or the articulation of contrarian ideas. The directive had apparently been prompted by a diktat from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Shourie is a member of both the national executive and national council but is not expected to attend — a situation party sources described as a “blessing in disguise”.
These sources, however, admitted that the party’s stance against FDI in retail had not been “thought through”, considering the Vajpayee government had mooted a similar proposal.
The three-day BJP conclave is expected to pass a “stiff” economic resolution, spelling out the party’s issues with retail FDI. All eyes are on Modi who, like the other BJP chief ministers, is likely to hold forth on the economic and political resolutions.
Shourie’s relations with the BJP have plummeted since 2009 when he implored the Sangh to take the party over and scoffed at then BJP chief Rajnath Singh as “Alice in Blunderland” and unnamed others as “Humpty Dumpty”.
He had dubbed the BJP a “kati patang” (runaway kite), borrowing the title of a Rajesh Khanna film. Calling for a wholesale sacking of the top leadership, he had said: “Like once Mao Zedong said, bombard the headquarters. Clean up everybody from the top.”
Shourie’s Rajya Sabha term ended in 2010 without an extension being considered. Towards the end of his tenure, the BJP allegedly denied him a chance to speak during debates on issues such as 2G allocation, afraid that he might depart from the official line.
In July 2011, shortly after the release of his latest book, Does He Know a Mother’s Heart?, Shourie had confessed he had had virtually no relations with the BJP since Vajpayee’s departure from the scene. He has not attended a single national executive meeting since 2009.
Around the time his book on his differently abled son and his ailing wife was released, Shourie unexpectedly praised Sonia Gandhi’s work for the disabled and asked why other politicians could not emulate her.
The former journalist’s kind words for the Congress president startled the BJP, which had courted Shourie in the 1970s and 1980s because of his vituperative campaigns against the Gandhis.
Asked why the BJP never contemplated action against Shourie — Jaswant Singh was axed immediately after writing sympathetically about Mohammed Ali Jinnah — a source admitted that the leaders were “fearful” of his ability to damage them with his “acerbic” tongue and writings.
Short of foreign degree holders, the BJP was secretly in awe of Shourie’s pedigree as a former student of Delhi’s St Stephen’s College and Syracuse University — cachets that might not evoke similar reverence in a Congress boasting several St Stephen’s, Oxford and Harvard alumni.