In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24×7 with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, former Union minister Arun Shourie talks about the tasks for the new government, the Gujarat CM’s style of working, the “understanding” that Modi could reach with the RSS and the fall in stature of the PMO.
These polls are being described as the most significant elections in India’s history although, you will agree, every election in India is called that.
That and, in 1977, when the Emergency was being voted upon. Yes, so everything is significant.
Everything is significant, except people like us can say, ‘Hamare time mein zyaada important tha (Things were more important during our days)’. But this election is different in the sense that you might see a change of not just parties or a coalition, but a change of character, temperament, style, ideology.
There will be a change in the sense that it is a presidential election… The people, local candidates mattered a lot, the parties mattered a lot. But this time, only one figure… His critics have made him (that), and the nature of Modi’s own campaign…
Either vote for or against Narendra Modi.
That’s the issue. And naturally, Modi is a very different person from Dr Manmohan Singh and others whom we have seen. Therefore, the style of governance will completely change. I think it’ll be much more centred around the prime minister’s office, the Cabinet Secretariat — 30 secretaries appointed directly by the prime minister — and the government run through them.
I had written in 2007, the day before the results in Gujarat, that if Modi wins, and I had sort of stuck my neck out, that he will not defer to the RSS as, say, Atal Bihari Vajpayee or L K Advani did.
I think Vajpayee did not defer, but he was able to manage. In Modi’s case, I think, there will be a clear understanding and, if the understanding works, the RSS can monitor the conduct of individual members of the BJP who become MPs or ministers and leave policy formation to the government. I think that is a good division of labour. Probably Modi will ensure that.
You also might see over-correction. But the fact is that the prime minister’s office needs to have its — for want of a better word in English — iqbal restored.
To what do you ascribe this fall in stature of the PMO?
Actually to the prime minister himself. The authority of the prime minister of India is so enormous, and I have always felt that this business of blaming Sonia Gandhi for everything — ‘Woh kara rahi hain, usko main rok raha hoon (She is asking me to do this, I’m stopping it)’ — is just not the case. I cannot imagine her being so interested in the details, and therefore, it is the prime minister. And, in any case, there was the RSS and Vajpayee. You could see the RSS was more powerful than Sonia Gandhi. But Vajpayee insulated the government.
When the RSS wanted Brajesh Mishra and N K Singh removed, Vajpayee said, ‘Take my head, they stay on with me’.
And remember, everybody would shout against Yashwant Sinha, his policies. But it was Vajpayee who always stood by him. So prime minister’s office is central, it has to be strengthened, but many more things have to be done.
Because our governance is in shambles.
Absolutely, from top to down. Arvind Datar, the famous lawyer and an authority on income tax in India, was saying that several multinational companies have been served notices. A company has a factory in Chennai, they have exported, and suddenly the income tax fellow says, ‘No no, where is the export form?’. Actually, he has seen the export forms, he has done the audit for one month of that company, and says, ‘No, these are not exports. Foreign exchange has come in, Rs 20,000 crore has come in, so it’s exports’. He says, ‘No, I say these are inter-state sales, so you pay such-and-such amount’. And he (Datar) was telling me about a case he’s handling in which the company has said, ‘We are not investing in India, we are moving to Vietnam’. So if you are giving targets to income tax officers, they will just slap notices and this is the consequence.
On the other side, you have the Ministry of Commerce saying, ‘100 per cent FDI! 80 per cent FDI!’. Who’s going to come? Things have to be done from top to bottom, because one of the consequences of Dr Manmohan Singh abdicating his authority was that every single person became a government on his own.
And every man for himself. In the sense that, ‘Pata nahi kal kya hoga (who knows what may happen tomorrow)’.
Yes, absolutely. In my own case, Hindustan Zinc, your paper published that an inquiry was started.
The Supreme Court has set it aside, the high court has set it aside.
The CBI’s seniormost people said there is no inquiry, but one SP and DSP based in Jodhpur started an inquiry. And when they came here, they talked to the officer, they talked to me, they talked to two officers, we asked them what is the complaint. They said, ‘There was no written complaint, we got the information orally’.
I remember when economic reforms first started in ‘91, I was coming from overseas and started chatting with Customs people. I said, ‘Kya kar rahe ho aap? Now things are very relaxed’. He said, ‘No, we are not following any of the new orders, we are checking everybody because these two fellows, Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, want to sell India’s interests, destroy our industry, and give it all to multinationals. We will never let this happen’. So this is a country of self-appointed freedom fighters.
That is one point. The second is… Avinash Prasad, a big consultant based in the UK, said the task of the new government is going to be to break India’s anti-growth lobby. The enemies of change.
Would you define that lobby?
They are people who imagine the difficulties that change would bring about.
One is the povertarian, who says growth is bad.
‘Growth is bad’, secondly, ‘inequality will increase’. You make a big dam, there’ll be families that have to be relocated. It’s one point to have good rehabilitation relief policies, but what happens in India is you start focusing only on the three families which have not got housing as yet. And you say the whole thing is bad. The activists do it, they are issue-hunting. Media falls for those activists. So any negative stance in India gets a lot of play. Therefore, it’s the income tax officer, the lower courts, a whole network that is impeding growth.
I heard a former general say the other day that there’s a nuclear plant coming up in Haryana. ‘A canal’s water will be used to cool it and then the water will irrigate the fields, it will carry radiation’. This is almost like Mani Ram Bagri in the ‘60s saying, ‘Bhakra Nangal mein paani mein se bijli nikali, ab gehoon kya paida hoga (Electricity has been taken out of Bhakra Nangal waters, what wheat can it irrigate now)?’. These things go unquestioned now.
Indira Gandhi said in 1983 in Parliament that one of the great breakthroughs for India’s atomic programme was the uranium finds in Andhra Pradesh. We have not been able to take one teaspoon out of it.
I will admit that the media is a lot to blame in this. We too don’t want to be confused with facts… ‘Meri theory hai, mujhe khabar mil gayi hai, confuse na karo (This is my theory, I have the information, please don’t confuse me)’. If the telecom scam was 4.4 per cent of India’s GDP, the price of that spectrum in 2007, so be it.
I think there are very difficult decisions to be taken, which Modi would have to use all his reputation to do. I was looking at these debt figures in Pranab Mukherjee’s time… In the next five years, you know how much we have to repay? Almost three times what we have been repaying. So what will you do on expenditure, on subsidies, because you can’t go on cutting capital expenditure as has happened. You can’t just go on postponing expenditure to April from March and show that my deficit is okay.
One good thing has happened, in the middle of all this. At least we have an RBI governor now who has a calming presence.
There is faith that there is professionalism in policy formulation. Therefore I was distressed that pebbles are being thrown at him by maybe prospective ministers. Meghnad Desai was right in saying, ‘You remove Raghuram Rajan, not one penny of foreign direct investment will come in’. People will not have faith that this is going to be a professionally run country, even in monetary policy, which has always been insulated from political winds. So Modi will have a lot of disciplining to do, other ministers, finance, defence… You know better than anybody else what the condition of civil-military relations is, what A K Antony’s modesty has cost the country.
I call Antony the Bapu Nadkarni of politics. Bapu Nadkarni was a cricketer who holds a world record that will never be broken — 22 consecutive maiden overs. His figures were, I think, 24 overs, 23 maidens, one run and no wicket. He would not let anyone make runs, nor get them out. When batting, he wouldn’t get out, nor score runs.
But there is another feature which our common friend Ajai Shukla told me about… I hope I remember the figure correctly, 88 per cent is revenue expenditure of the Army’s budget. Only 12 per cent is for new acquisitions and weapons and capital improvement. So is this the way to defend the country?
The answer to everything has been to pass the buck on to a committee. Either it’s the GoM, or an e-GoM, or there is one more regulator…
The head of SEBI, he gave me a figure. Do you know how many regulators there are for the economy? Thirty-six. In the financial sector alone, there are nine. In one single sector, education, there are 13 regulators.
That’s why we have such wonderful higher education.
With these 13 regulators, the good colleges are not being allowed to function, and you have a situation in which Rayalaseema University alone in two years gave 2,600 PhDs. Secondly, 23 universities in Andhra Pradesh admitted in five years 38,000 PhD candidates and gave PhDs to half of them.
I think it was Agra University or one of these old universities in UP which gave a PhD on ‘Hindi Sahitya mein lote ka mahatva’. You just have to have the imagination.
In many cases, you don’t even have to have that… And, you know, we are talking of governance at this (top) level. At the bottom, we just don’t understand what governance has become. That’s why the appeal of AAP (Aam Aadmi Party). I’ll give you an instance. We were sitting in the evening, and the person downstairs, he told me a policeman has come. I ran down, and he asked if Anita Shourie lived there. I said, ‘Yes, she is my wife, she is unwell, so she is upstairs’. He said that she is a proclaimed absconder.
I asked why. (He said) that summons were served but there was no acceptance, so now a non-bailable warrant had been issued against her. He said if she didn’t appear in a Faridabad court by 11 am the next day, she would be imprisoned for five years. I ran to Faridabad. There was a young magistrate sitting there, so I asked her, ‘Madam, you issued this, but why?’. She said, ‘Our register shows that five times the summons were served’. I said, that didn’t happen, nobody came. And then somebody said, sometimes people do not go and just write in the register that summons were not accepted. But why was it served? She said, ‘You built an illegal farmhouse’. I said, ‘We’ve not built any farmhouse’. She said, ‘You don’t own such-and-such plot?’. I said we owned it but sold it five years ago because we needed the money to build a house near Pune. The person standing there happened to be the person appearing as the prosecutor. He said, ‘Yes, they have not built the house, they don’t even own the plot’. But she said, ‘Now the process has started, your wife has to appear at the next hearing’. She was suffering, so two of us had to hold her and take her there. The magistrate saw her condition, said, ‘Okay, I’ll give bail but only till the next hearing because I may be transferred’.
Now Anita is on bail for a summons which was not served, which was issued for a house that we have not built, on a plot which we don’t own. But I keep going to Faridabad.
That’s why people are so angry.
Angry, and therefore a great opportunity for Modi, but one which will require implementation from top to bottom.
He’ll need a lot more talent, my apologies, than what the BJP has right now.
Well, that’s true. If you look at the candidates from political classes as a whole — not (just) from a party — they are the same as they were last time.
Or their children.
And you have to make a government out of this. There was this wonderful couplet, by Anand Narain Mulla. He has written a book on Muslim personal law and he writes shayari also. He said, Dil qaidi ka behlane ko…
To comfort the prisoner.
To give solace to the prisoner… Darbaan badalte jaate hain.
The guards keep changing.
So that should not happen. The fact that all hope has come to rest on Modi is a great responsibility for him… Naturally, he would require, as you said, a lot of talent. As he has mobilised for the elections, he will have to mobilise for the government.
And you get the sense that the process has started?
I suppose, in a preliminary way, some lists would have been done, some notes made. But probably everything has got swept aside because of the campaign.
He has surprised everybody with his energy.
With energy, focus. A good way to look at it is to see, in retrospect, that all manufactured apprehensions — ‘other BJP leaders will not let him come’, ‘he does not have appeal outside Gujarat’, ‘the Congress will do some trick’ — have fallen aside.
‘He’s not a Brahmin’.
Yes, anything, saying he is a chaiwallah. Mani Shankar Aiyar only made him famous.
You and Mani Shankar went to the same college, at the same time.
We were in the same class. His great achievement in life is that he got, I think, 4 per cent (marks) more than me in his exam.
So Modi needs talent.
Talent, and also he needs the perseverance he has shown. Not GoMs and so on. What his style is, he makes everyone who is concerned sit together. Let’s say coal has to be solved, everybody concerned must sit on the table, discuss it thoroughly for eight hours. Decisions are taken there and then. Coal secretaries are asked what they need, finance what they need, commerce… it is done there and then. Now report back (in) the next meeting, one month from now.
If you were to give Modi a to-do list and a not-to-do list, what are the three things you will put on each one?
Find persons. Everything depends on the persons you will choose. No appointment is unimportant, because suddenly irrigation may become important, power may become important, mines and coals may become important. Second, please watch the conduct of everybody because everybody will be watching. Third, please realise how difficult the situation today is, with the economy and with national security. China, which is doing well, is a threat to India. Similarly, with the Americans going out of Afghanistan, in a sense in defeat, Pakistan acquiring influence there has only one way to deal with its militants — deflect them back into India. Also, don’t worry too much about the leaders of opposition here, make the chief ministers of India your partners in governing India. Panditji (Jawaharlal Nehru), in the most difficult circumstances, at the height of the Chinese war, would write a fortnightly letter to each chief minister, explaining to them the general context of policy.
And the three ‘not-to-do’s’.
Do not take a single tainted or incompetent person in your government. Because, as they say, a single chain is as strong as its weakest link. Follow up every order that you have given. This is not Ahmedabad, this is Delhi. This is a Mayanagri. One more thing to avoid. I have seen in Rajiv Gandhi’s case, and other cases, they thought that because they are managing Parliament, they are managing the situation. Not the case.
Transcribed by Hansika Chopra
Correction: In an earlier version the reference to Anand Narain Mulla incorrectly appeared as “a mullah in Allahabad”. The error is regretted.