Subramanian Swamy and Arun Shourie are the most prominent Rightwing intellectuals of India and the greatest opponents of Nehruvian socialism. That both are not part of the supposedly post-Nehruvian establishment is a sad commentary on the sincerity of the ruling dispensation to bring about a paradigm shift. And their impatience with the state of affairs is a clear indication of drift.
Quite apart from his disappointment with government efforts to bring back black money, Swamy is unhappy about the waywardness of economic policy. As he put it, policy is “revenue-driven with increase in the discretionary powers of revenue collectors.” In his interview to www.jagohindu.in, he was extremely critical of the adhocism in the economic framework, “of ideology-free approach.”
Swamy castigated Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, NITI Aayog chief Arvind Panagariya as people who “don’t have any ideology. There are some things you don’t do if you are ideologically inclined. If you are not, you feel anything that maximizes revenue is okay…”
According to Swamy, the troika is not even a set of technocrats; they are just a bunch of technicians who cannot inspire. “They can plug a hole, but can’t make a building.”
Shourie also slammed the government for its revenue-driven approach. “You suddenly send notices to Shell, Nokia to everybody, having said that you will not have retrospective taxation or retrospective dues. The PM’s office itself writes that you should attend to public grievances and the letter has been put out in public domain and then suddenly you say Rs 40,000 crore are owed on a tax that was there from 1987. And the government of India has said thrice that it does not apply to FIIs [foreign institutional investors].”
In fact, Shourie went on to dub the government’s efforts to raise revenue somehow as bullying tactics. When FIIs withdraw some money after the notice, the government is on the back-foot. “Two days and then they said, no, no, no, no, those FIIs which are located in countries where we have tax treaties we’ll not charge. No, notices have gone not for Rs 10,000 crore only for Rs 906 crore! Then they [investors] said what about the FIIs investing in debt instruments? Because that’s 3 lakh crores. So suddenly, yesterday [April 30] Mr. Jaitley announces in Parliament that will also not come. So that shows ye sirf do din ke sher hain.”
The consequence? “It is going to retard foreign investment in India because they [investors] require ability and predictability and that is not happening.”
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, however, don’t take the views of Swamy and Shourie seriously. Such is the aura and terror of Swamy that they steer clear of him, often sullenly taking his criticism in their stride. But they surely believe that Shourie is fair game. Even a pygmy like Sambit Patra had the cheek to lambaste him. “There are many fair-weather friends. Friends who try to gatecrash into the party when the going is good and they turn hostile when this attempt to gatecrash fails,” said Patra.
The innuendo was stark: Shourie is cribbing because he was not made a minister. And there was the lie: Shourie did not become a Modi supporter when he became Prime Minister, or even when a wave in his favor became evident; the former minister in the Atal Bihar Vajpayee government has been rooting for Modi even in the mid-2000s when it was taboo for intellectuals to say anything in support of Modi.
What is more important to notice here, however, is the fact that Patra could not have made those despicable remarks without the sanction of the ruling triumvirate of Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. So, the Big Three seem to believe that Shourie is just a disgruntled grandee who is blabbering. The implicit belief, then, is that all is well. So, the debacle in Delhi Assembly polls was just a blip, as also the recent rout of the saffron party in West Bengal municipal elections. The grouses of industry are… well, businessmen grumble all the time. The gathering storm over the amendments to the land acquisition law is nothing but hullabaloo amplified by the Opposition and the media. Achhe din are already here.
So, what to do with Swamy and Shourie? The powers that be have no ambiguity over the issue—just ignore them. Perhaps, they believe that Swamy will keeping fighting myriad court cases and Shourie will get back to reading and writing books.
So, as Shourie said, the ruling trimurti are “managing headlines. Unfortunately there is too much focus on managing headlines regard to the economy and that is going to rebound.”
A statesman, they say, thinks of the next generation, a politician of the next election. BJP bosses think of the next day’s headlines.