NEW DELHI — In a sharp attack on the Narendra Modi government, BJP leader Arun Shourie contended that it believes that managing economy means "managing the headlines" and that people had started recalling the days of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"Doctor Singh (Manmohan Singh) ko log yaad karne lag gaye hain (People have started recalling the days of Manmohan Singh). The way to charaterise policies of the government is -- Congress plus a cow. Policies are the same," Shourie said at book launch function.
The function to launch 'Turn of The Tortoise', a book written by former Business Standard Editor-in-Chief T N Ninan, was attended by Manmohan Singh, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subranamian and former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.
Pointing out differences between the present and the previous governments, Shourie said "there is clearer belief (in the present dispensation) that managing economy means managing the headlines and this is not really going to work."
Targeting Modi, the minister in the Vajpayee government said, "I feel there was never a weaker a PMO as now".
He said "there has never been as great a centralisation of functions, not power, of functions in PMO as now. ...If fellows don't dont have domain expertise, that Brajesh Mishra had, L K Jha had, all these principal secretaries had, then things get stuck."
Shourie said, "everybody is busy and everybody is doing very hard work, but it is not resulting in two there big things that was problem at that time (UPA government time)."
Elaborating, he said, "If you see impediments that were there in tax administration, virtually no change... Banking reform has been delayed by year and a half for no reason. So therefore this tortoise is very generous metaphor. Ye to so hi jata hai (this tortoise goes to sleep)."
He claimed that industrialists are afraid of speaking against the government.
"The industrialists who meet the Prime Minister don't speak whole truth. After meeting PM, they wonder what is happening and say 'please do something'. And in front of media they give the government 9 out of 10," Shourie claimed.
Shourie noted that Parliament has become alibi for not doing anything.
While taking digs at the Modi government, Shourie said it should embrace everybody instead of fighting.
"Don't get into fight with everyone. If you want to build Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, you require support of 5 Chief Ministers," he said.
Speaking at the event, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian said the work on the draft bankruptcy law is at an advanced stage.
Noting that India is one of unique development models, Subramanian said India is "a precautious development model" in both economic and political sense.
"India is a country which is not following normal economic development model...India is growing by defying its comparative advantage," he said.
"We have lots of space to grow using our cheap labour. If we don't do stupid things then we can grow very rapidly," he said.
Shourie said the government cannot be run through "boxing matches" and that every state has to be taken into confidence for smoother policy implementation.
On the government's relationship with the states and the opposition he said, "One thing that has surprised me about the government is its timidity. Slight opposition comes and the reform is dropped... In my head I would say please befriend, please impress... You cannot get up every morning and get into a boxing match."
He said the NDA government was essentially "the Congress plus a cow", in an apparent dig at the recent controversy over beef bans and lynching of a man in Dadri over rumours of consuming beef.
Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Sharan, who was one of the panelists, also criticised the government on the foreign policy front saying there was no concrete results in terms of actual implementation.
"In terms of actual execution, we are slipping into an event mode rather than a process mode. There is a sense that we are moving from one big event to another big event; moving from one very successful visit to another successful visit and not paying enough attention on process.
"Visit leads to a number of decisions, number of initiatives but before the system is actually able to digest that and actually deliver on those we are already thinking about the next big visit, we are thinking about the next big event and that has led to a slow erosion of credibility...
so the grouse always is where's the beef?" Sharan quipped.
Chief Economic Advisor Arving Subranamian was also part of the discussion moderated by NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain. He said the tenor of Shourie's criticism misrepresents economic stability that "we have achieved."