WSJ on Arun Shourie

WSJ profiles one of the best ministers in the Indian cabinet. Shourie handles both disinvestment and IT. The article focuses on his role in the public sector units’ privatisation process.

For the first time since the end of British rule more than 50 years ago, India is redefining the government’s relationship to business. The sizzling economy of the world’s second-most-populous nation is expected to expand by at least 7% in the year ending in March. Supporters of reform give Mr. Shourie a hefty dose of credit for encouraging economic change.

Mr. Shourie’s main ally has been Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who has repeatedly stepped in to push the campaign forward. Mr. Shourie also has used his journalistic skills, writing opinion pieces and essays that attack what he calls India’s “timorous political class” and the “unimaginative character” of most Indian state-owned companies.

Mr. Shourie’s battles with the Indian government go back to his college days at Syracuse University in upstate New York. As a doctoral candidate in economics in the 1960s, he wrote a thesis arguing that New Delhi’s foreign-exchange controls were leading to a generation of lost growth. Intellectuals in Indira Gandhi’s socialist government branded Mr. Shourie a Western agent. With few job opportunities back home, he joined the World Bank in Washington, working as an economist for nearly a decade.

Mr. Shourie returned home in the years leading up to the collapse of Ms. Gandhi’s government in 1977 and became an editor at India’s most prominent investigative newspaper, the Indian Express. At the time, the paper’s owner was waging a crusade against the autocratic Gandhi family and India’s largest private company, Reliance Industries Ltd., which now has interests in oil and gas, telecommunications and other businesses.

Mr. Shourie’s former colleagues say he aggressively covered the so-called “Bofors Scandal,” a multimillion-dollar payoff scam involving a Swedish arms contractor and members of Rajiv Gandhi’s government, which was exposed in 1987.

Mr. Shourie left the Indian Express over differences with the owner. Over the past three decades, he’s written 17 books on everything from Islamic law to India’s defense forces, earning both admirers and critics.

In 1998, Mr. Shourie joined the upper house of parliament as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist political party led by the current prime minister. Two years later, Mr. Vajpayee tapped him to become the privatization czar.

Shourie has also in the past few months streamlined the mess between the various telecom operators, with the result the India’s cellphone base of 28 million at the end of 2003 is expected to more than double this year.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.