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Aug 26, 2013 at 09:34pm IST

Narendra Modi has the best poll agent in Manmohan Singh: Arun Shourie

Former Union Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Shourie said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been a person who has squandered his own reputation. Speaking to CNN-IBN's Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Shourie said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has the best poll agent in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Here is the transcript of the interview:

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Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate and a special interview with one of India's most renowned political thinkers Arun Shourie on the state of our politics and the plight of our economy. Mr Shourie let us start with the state of our politics. Many people when they look at the paralysis of Parliament or when of performance of the government are disillusioned, several are depressed, some are even disgusted. Can you understand that sentiment?

Arun Shourie: Of course! But I think behind this we should recognise that what happens in Parliament is most often a drama. It is a well rehearsed, staged planned drama. You will shout, I will shout, the Speaker in 5 minutes will say ok adjourned till 12:30. So it is irrespective of the contrived nature of that drama that a paralysis has occurred and Parliament of India has been reduced to one of the worst assemblies of the states. What we used to hear about the Bihar Assembly we now see in Parliament.

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Karan Thapar: So when you say it's a drama, is this almost like theatre of the absurd?

Arun Shourie: No, theatre of evil as far as the consequences are concerned.

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Karan Thapar: Theatre of evil!

Arun Shourie: Because of its consequences. I don't mean that the persons are evil but the consequences are certainly disastrous for the country.

Karan Thapar: It is damning India to be a permanently backward undeveloped country because the decisions it should take, it is simply not taking.

Arun Shourie: Yes. Two points are there. Firstly, we are looking at Parliament for too many decisions. We are an over legislated country. I have now just analysed with the help of one of the wisest men, 115 bills which are pending in Parliament and really you can do away with all of them except 10 or 15 which are required because of previous laws which were passed not because of anything new.

Karan Thapar: To undo the damage of the previous laws.

Arun Shourie: Yes and other than that some small amendments are there, so you don't require a legislation. A prudent government will make a list of things which can be done without passing new laws. Many things can be done.

Karan Thapar: Talking about prudent governments, how do you view the UPA government? Has it outlived its utility and is an election best solution out of this impasse?

Arun Shourie: No, the government of course has not been there so its question of outliving its utility, it went away long ago.

Karan Thapar: It never had utility

Arun Shourie: Well no, it also was not there, not doing anything except for some perverse things, you know this NREGA one day, the Food Security Bill the other, which have terrible consequences for the economy to which we can turn later, the government was not there. But whether the elections now will solve any problem really depends on the outcome of the elections.

Karan Thapar: Very quickly on that, what do you fear, that we could up with a fractured mandate throwing up an even weak and unstable government driving us further into the hole.

Arun Shourie: Then we will be on a road from where it will be very difficult to recover for you know for 5-10 years.

Karan Thapar: So you now say to people who say that an election is the best solution, you are saying 'hang on' it could be like jumping off the cliff?

Arun Shourie: Yes it could be.

Karan Thapar: Come back to what you mentioned about the sort of legislation we have passed. NREGA, Food Security. These are held up by this government as great achievements. You see them very differently.

Arun Shourie: Yes. Because you see up to 2007-2008, I will just give you one figure, subsidies were increasing a 12 per cent a year. That is bad enough. After 2008 they have increased it at 32 per cent a year. Can an economy afford that? You see everything that is done is desirable but sometimes you can afford it and sometimes you can't.

Karan Thapar: So NREGA and the Food Security will represent the welfarism taken to the extent of bad economics, endangering the country's future?

Arun Shourie: Not only the future, but it has really ruined things as of now.

Karan Thapar: In that context how then would you assess the nine years of Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of India?

Arun Shourie: Well, he has been a person who has squandered his own reputation and is a person who has been completely been irresponsible in regard to the nature of the things that the country required.

Karan Thapar: Should he have known better with regard to the 2 bills that you mentioned earlier NREGA and the Food Security?

Arun Shourie: Of course. I mean which ass could not have known the consequences of this. You extend them to even the districts where there was labour shortage. Even NC Saxena who was a member of the National Advisory Council wrote do not do this, at least for the districts in which there is shortage of labour.

Karan Thapar: Yet he did it.

Arun Shourie: Yes he did. Kyoki ji Rahul Gandhi ne kaha hai. Bhai wah (Because Rahul Gandhi said so. Wonderful)!

Karan Thapar: So do you see him as a man who better known a Prime Minister but was hobbled by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi?

Arun Shourie: No, No. I think this Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi business is just an excuse. He just goes along with everything. His core competence has turned out to be to blame other people. 2G - Oh Raja was doing it, I didn't know. Arre Raja wrote letters to you. Coalgate - I was the minister but I didn't know.

Karan Thapar: And here is an economist. He should have known about NREGA and Food Security but he has turned a blind eye.

Arun Shourie: I can tell you one thing from personal knowledge and from what my good friend Yashwant Sinha told me, whatever you say about the Indian intelligence system, the Prime minister of India knows every single thing that is happening anywhere in his government. I can give you dramatic instances of Mr Vajpayee who was not sort of looking around for things, knew exactly what X or Y was told in a private meeting in Chennai.

Karan Thapar: In other words you are suggesting that Dr Manmohan Singh knowingly, deliberately turning a Nelson's eye towards what is happening around him.

Arun Shourie: Absolutely.

Karan Thapar: Here you are talking not just about the passage of bills he should have known better about, you are talking about corruption that has been happening under his nose.

Arun Shourie: In case of 2G, I took the papers to him. I had to disclose it unfortunately because that Aseerdvatam Achary had brought the papers to me in the first instance.

Karan Thapar: So you personally took 2G papers to Dr Manmohan Singh?

Arun Shourie: Yes. Yes and he did nothing. That is why.

Karan Thapar: For those whose memory is not too good what was it that these 2G papers contained? What was it that you were you informing him of and what did he ignore?

Arun Shourie: Well I can rehearse the thing. Raja's PA, let's say his personal office who used to handle all appointments and all the other things Aseerdvatam Achary, he had a friend Gopi Krishnan, the one who was publishing many of the details, But it was in Pioneer nobody would take notice. Gopi Krishnan had worked in the Indian Express so there is a link and so they said let's go to Arun Shourie. They brought me the papers, these are the front companies, this is the company belonging to so and so, these are the brokers, this is Shahid Balwa, this is Swan, this is the reality of Swan...

Karan Thapar: So all the details they wanted

Arun Shourie: Everything was there. I sat with them. This was in a confused stage...the calling cards of the fellows...because this fellow was managing everything.

Karan Thapar: So you sat with them and sorted out the papers

Arun Shourie: No, No! I then prepared a note which they went over and I took these things, in the gallery of the Rajya Sabha I showed them and I told Dr sahib (Manmohan Singh).

Karan Thapar: Dr Manmohan Singh?

Arun Shourie: Han. Ki Dr saheb dekho in kaagaz ne, udhar ek banda hai, badi corruption ho rahi hai, yeh fatt jayegi. (I told Manmohan Singh to take a look at the papers, explained that there is massive corruption) You know it will explode.

Karan Thapar: What did he say?

Arun Shourie: Gestures that Manmohan Singh touched his turban.

Karan Thapar: You mean he settled and tied his turban?

Arun Shourie: Which is always does. I said what can you do? He said ki kar sakde hai. Main keh ji ki kar sakde hai! (He said what can be done. I told him you can do it) Prime Minister of India! Anyhow tussi na kuch na karo. (Do something) You send Nair to me I'll explain him everything.

Karan Thapar: Did Nair ever come?

Arun Shourie: No. So I went one step further. I said ki wo bada vadda officer hai pehle mere nal kaam karda si.. main unne khud javanga tussi unne sirf keh diya si (I told him Nair is a senior officer and has worked with me. I will go to him) that when I ring up he can give me an appointment. I rang up, nothing happened. I waited for one month, then I went to Ashwini Kumar who is the Director of CBI whom I knew from previous times.

Karan Thapar: And gave him the papers?

Arun Shourie: Gave him the papers. Before anything was there, they started making informal enquiries and Ashwini told me that aapke aadmi ko to sab kuch pata hai. Wo handle kar raha tha usko sab kuch pata hai (your man knows everything , he is handling everything).

Karan Thapar: But the main point you are making here is that the Prime Minister touched his turban, pleaded helplessness, did not arrange for Kuti Nair to meet you. He didn't take this further at all.

Arun Shourie: Did nothing. No. forget getting Kutti Nair to meet me, when I rand up Kutti Nair I was not given an appointment. But the other point is, you don't have to wait to meet me. Karan there were fisticuffs, slapping in the Sanchar Bhawan when these allocation forms were being given, so the Prime Minister doesn't know!

Karan Thapar: Let's move beyond the Prime Minister, clearly he is one man..

Arun Shourie: One point, one point. Raja consistently wrote letters to the Prime Minister all of which are now in open in public.

Karan Thapar: And as you say all were ignored by the Prime Minister

Arun Shourie: He would be - I have received your letter. Thank you

Karan Thapar: So today, just to sum up Dr Manmohan Singh stands very low in your estimation.

Arun Shourie: Yes. Unfortunately yes.

Karan Thapar: You have lost respect for him?

Arun Shourie: A good man who has turned out to be a good for nothing man

Karan Thapar: That is a damning indictment

Arun Shourie: Well that is what the situation is.

Karan Thapar: Let's try and look to the future case as it is. The Congress regards Rahul Gandhi as their great hope. What assessment have you made of him as an MP over nine years?

Arun Shourie: No you see, has he said anything on any public issue. I think I remember only one statement of his on this Lokpal thing, after he eventually came back and made a speech in Parliament and said that actually the Lokpal should become.

Karan Thapar: Constitutional status.

Arun Shourie: Yes and this is going to be the game changer. Has it changed the game?

Karan Thapar: In your eyes does he have Prime Ministerial qualities?

Arun Shourie: He is just an innocent person. I don't know him personally and I would not like to comment on it. As far as the public issues that he has taken up are concerned, they stopped the Vedanta project!

Karan Thapar: He hasn't impressed you as an MP?

Arun Shourie: What has he done?

Karan Thapar: That question in a very real sense gives me the answer you are suggesting. Let's counter Narendra Modi. The BJP sees him as a salvation of this country. Would you agree?

Arun Shourie: He will certainly be actually his main election agent today is, main election agent is a very strong election. The person working from him, night and day.

Karan Thapar: Are you talking about Amit Shah?

Arun Shourie: No, no, no. I am talking about Manmohan Singh. Manmohan Singh is the main election agent of Narendra Modi today, kyuki jab ye koi kaam hi nhi karte hai to log kehte hai ki yar Modi ko lao. Modi ko lao.

Karan Thapar: In other words you are saying desperation, frustration, rage and anger against Manmohan Singh and the UPA government is what will bring Modi to power.

Arun Shourie: No it contrasts with. I would hope that a person like him comes to power. I cant guarantee it.

Karan Thapar: You hope he comes to power.

Arun Shourie: Yes certainly.

Karan Thapar: Would you endorse him?

Arun Shourie: I would certainly. I have long said.

Karan Thapar: What do you say to people who turn around and say he is divisive, he will frighten the minorities, he will rupture India's communal harmony?

Arun Shourie: There is communal harmony. You are teetering on that. The question is that if I keep shouting divisive, Karan Thapar is divisive then everybody says oho, see everybody is talking of him as divisive. The question is, at the moment what the country requires is not divisive but decisive leadership.

Karan Thapar: And he is

Arun Shourie: He has certainly demonstrated that.

Karan Thapar: Decisive he is. Some people turn around and say he is arrogant and dismissive of those who disagree with him and differ with him.

Arun Shourie: Well I haven't worked with him so I can't say that. I mean I can't say one way or the other. But as far as my limited interactions with him are concerned, that is not the case. And certainly he listens very carefully for 2 hours at a length and you find that subsequently he has acted upon them.

Karan Thapar: If he becomes BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate which of course looks very likely.

Arun Shourie: He is the candidate.

Karan Thapar: Will he unite the party or could he fracture the top leadership, the Sushma Swaraj, the LK Advani who may differ

Arun Shourie: I will not speak about the stateless leaders in Delhi. There are state leaders.

Karan Thapar: Stateless leaders in Delhi !

Arun Shourie: That Gyani ji's description. He said India 2 tareeke ke leader ne. State leader Kamraj, SK Patil, Atulya Ghosh aur duje ne stateless leader tera VP Singh (India has two types of leaders - state leaders like Kamraj, SK Patil , Atulya Ghosh and stateless leaders like VP Singh).

Karan Thapar: So you are comparing Sushma and Advani to VP Singh?

Arun Shourie: No to anybody here in Delhi. So I am saying yes he has united the party at the grass root level as far as I can see. I am not in touch with the party but if that is the party of the workers and volunteers, they are all for him and I am sure that people in Delhi are also reconciled to him

Karan Thapar: My last question on Narendra Modi, if under him the party gets 150-160 what then? In 1996 Atal Bihari Vajpayee from the same point could not form a lasting government. Can Modi do better?

Arun Shourie: I don't know. That will depend on the situation in the country but would I presume that Mr Narendra Modi will work for a minimum of 230 seats with the BJP alone. And the way this government is going that is entirely possible.

Karan Thapar: That is entirely possible? With Dr Manmohan Singh to thank?

Arun Shourie: Yes absolutely.

Karan Thapar: My last question on politics before I take a break and come to economics, Is Parliament right in striving to reverse the Supreme Court judgement barring the convicted MPs and MLAs from continuing in office.

Arun Shourie: Absolutely self serving and wrong. I have long advocated that Section 8 (4) of the Representation of People's Act must be amended.

Karan Thapar: What about Parliament's attempts to amend the RTI Act to keep political parties outside its purview?

Arun Shourie: Yes I am completely against that because as you know.

Karan Thapar: Against it meaning the amendment or keeping it?

Arun Shourie: No, no against the amendment. They must be open to public scrutiny. I'll tell you the first step in this if their having to disclose their accounts is because of a writ of my own father.

Karan Thapar: Quite right. In a very real sense common cause pursued with long before RTI came in to being. Mr Shourie, let's now come to the plight of the economy. Do you accept the government's line that the fundamentals of the Indian economy are sound but it is simply going through temporary turbulence or do you believe we are suffering serious structural problems which sometimes aren't even recognised.

Arun Shourie: Yes I think. Look whose fundamentals are not strong? When Brazil and Argentina went into a tailspin, when Japan, the second largest economy in the world remained at a plateau for 20 years, when the US in 2008 plunged down due to the financial..

Karan Thapar: Everyone's fundamentals are strong

Arun Shourie: Everyone's fundamentals are strong. Yes. It's a useless phrase. Last time they were saying oh we are de-coupled and our fundamentals are strong, now they are saying we are coupled but our fundamentals are strong.

Karan Thapar: So in that case, we have serious structural problems that are not recognised.

Arun Shourie: Yes. We are underestimating the consequences of the fiscal deficit in the long run. And now we have awakened to the consequences of having this kind of current account deficit which has been financed by short-term debt which in 4 years rose from $125 billion to $400 billion.

Karan Thapar: Let me put this to you, if you were Finance Minister today with a completely free hand what will be the three top steps that you will take to restore health to this economy?

Arun Shourie: I think anybody who is the Finance Minister, I will be the Finance Minister when Karan gives the job, but otherwise I think the first thing would be absolute embargo on increases in expenditure and I would stop the Food Security Bill because you must give a signal that yes we are serious. I would not keep relying on poor Reserve Bank of India to keep on raising the interest rates. Secondly very quickly, I would open a dialogue with the judiciary, because many of their decisions like Shkehar Gupta has pointed out and many others have been saying - reservations, these are paralysing the economy.

Karan Thapar: And third?

Arun Shourie: Third, I would make a list of the things that can be done without legislation, start implementing them. For instance, you need to give a signal that here are 10 infrastructure projects that are lying incomplete and stalled, I will immediately move them for that I will the chief ministers the partners in government.

Karan Thapar: Something that has actually frightened and put off foreign investors is retrospective amendment of taxation in India. There are several companies Vodafone, Nokia, Cadbury, Shell, LG all suffering. How serious a mistake has government made with retrospective amendment of taxation.

Arun Shourie: It's terrible. Somebody comes in on a particular set of assurances, particular interpretation of law and suddenly you change it. This is not a joke. Similarly you give permissions, Vedanta. They invest Rs 20,000 crore and then small panchayats of 30 families each stop the whole project.

Karan Thapar: So if you were Finance Minister you would ensure that this sort of thing would never happen?

Arun Shourie: Yes. And in fact we should announce now, that we will not do these things in the future. We will not have retrospective taxations, we will not rescind permissions, we will do much more on defence production in the private sector.

Karan Thapar: Unfortunately Mr Shourie, you are not the Finance Minister, you can't do these things. Given the sort of government we have today, who knows what will happen in 9 months time but given the sort of government we have today, the Finance Minister, the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, the Prime Minister, how long would it be before we get back to the desired 8 and 9 per cent of growth or do you think that is close to impossible.

Arun Shourie: With these fellows? They are gone, they are not there. They weren't there yesterday they weren't there today, how I wish they go away, its off the nosh for you.

Karan Thapar: In other words, the sooner they go the better

Arun Shourie: No doubt.

Karan Thapar: Arun Shourie, it was a pleasure talking to you.