Economist on Arun Shourie

As part of the outgoing BJP government in India, Arun Shourie was one of its stars. The Economist has a profile:

As the public face of the Indian government’s privatisation programme, [Shourie] is basking in the success of the Indian stockmarket’s largest-ever public share issue. Its offer of 10% of the shares in ONGC, an oil exploration and production company, was the last of a hectic spate of six privatisation issues. The offering was fully sold within minutes, and when it closes on March 13th will raise some 100 billion rupees ($2.2 billion). This is a godsend for a government struggling to meet its fiscal-deficit target ahead of a general election on April 20th. Just as important for Mr Shourie is to see another lurch forward in India’s erratic economic liberalisation.

Mr Shourie was a well-known author and journalist before he was head-hunted into the unelected upper house of India’s parliament by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads India’s ruling coalition, in 1998. His last book, Courts and their Judgments, complained about the way India’s law courts have extended their roles, because of the shortcomings of India’s other institutions. His next one will examine how the internal processes of government have come to resemble the termites that ate away at a tree in his garden, leaving little but a piece of bark that now decorates his book-lined ministerial office. It will draw on his experience of trying to practise what he used to preach as an economist at the World Bank, since he became minister of disinvestment in 2001.

Mr Shourie hopes that the next government will continue reformingeven if Congress, the main opposition party, wins. Congress launched the reforms in government, but now often seems opposed to them. Everybody opposes reform in opposition, argues Mr Shourie, but in office, finds it the only option. The priorities now are to tackle the deficit, by cutting government subsidies, and to devise new formulae for the distribution of funds between states and the federal government. At present, non-performance is rewarded and success penalised.

People like Vajpayee, Shourie, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Jaitley are the reason why the BJP is likely to return to power in the April-May elections.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.