Why Shourie is right in praising Modi's fight against corruption

Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi narcissistic? Is he Machiavellian? Is he remorseless and is he running a presidential-style government, a virtual one-man show? All this could be true.

Arun Shourie, one of the most bitter critics of Modi, pilloried the Prime Minister on all these counts. Shourie was as scathing and devastating as he could get in a recent interview given to Karan Thapar of India TV.

Shourie also said something that was important but didn’t make headlines: that Modi has drastically reduced corruption, that there hasn’t been a single case of corruption in the government and that nobody in the Modi Cabinet can be accused of corruption. That’s a rare compliment and that’s rare for a government in India. In our living memory, we don’t recall any government at the Centre, which didn’t face atleast one corruption charge.

In the first two years of the government, Modi — who Shourie says has the dark triad of narcissism, Machiavellianism and remorselessness as personality traits — has beaten the most formidable enemy of governance: corruption.

Narendra Modi. File photo. AFP.

Narendra Modi. File photo. AFP.

When Modi was sworn in two years ago, two major issues confronted the country: corruption and policy paralysis. Mega scandals of corruption had grounded the Manmohan Singh government and indecision in policy making had led to decline in investment, which in turn led to decline in growth, job creation and development. Shourie blasted Modi for inaction on economic front, insecurity and arrogance on political front and inexperience on foreign policy front. He said Modi was a big letdown but he admitted that he had lived up to his poll promise on eradicating corruption to a great extent.

That last bit on corruption is what the venerable The Economist said on 5 May in its crony-capitalism index report: “India seems to be cleaning up its act. In 2008 crony wealth reached 18 percent of GDP, putting it on a par with Russia. Today it stands at 3 percent, a level similar to Australia.” That’s no mean achievement if The Economist’s assessment is to be believed. India stands in the rank of a developed-world democracy even though two years ago it was in the company of an oligarchy.

The report goes on, “The government has got tough on graft, and the central bank has prodded state-owned lenders to stop giving sweetheart deals to moguls. The vast majority of its billionaire wealth is now from open industries such as pharmaceuticals, cars and consumer goods. The pin-ups of Indian capitalism are no longer the pampered scions of its business dynasties, but the hungry founders Flipkart, an e-commerce firm.”

The Economist’s assessment is in sharp contrast to what Modi’s adversaries have been saying. While they admit in hushed tones that cases of corruption had diminished in Delhi’s corridors of power, opposition parties, members of civil society and social media don’t miss the chance of attacking Modi on his perceived proximity to crony capitalists.

The Economist’s index on crony capitalism is based on research conducted by Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton of Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research and others.

The report pinpoints the tendency among India Inc. to take advantage of their connections to governments to stop foreign direct investment in sectors like insurance and later make huge profits by selling their stake to foreign companies once the sector is liberalised.

Well, if you think The Economist is among the Western publications plugging for foreign companies in the Indian market and therefore betting on Modi or promoting Modi, look nowhere else but its own issue of 5 April, 2014 while India was in the middle of the general elections campaign.

In an article with the screaming headline, Can anyone stop Narendra Modi?, The Economist gave its verdict even before India had voted. “He (Modi) will probably become India’s next prime minister. That does not mean he should be”. And how could The Economist forget its ordained duty of fulfilling the white man’s burden? “We do not find the prospect of a government led by Congress under Mr (Rahul) Gandhi an inspiring one. But we have to recommend it to Indians as the less disturbing option.”

Corruption has been and remains the biggest roadblock in the path of development, growth and good governance worldwide, especially in developing countries. At least on one very crucial parameter, the Modi government has some noteworthy achievement.

Does that mean Shourie’s criticism of the Modi government is misplaced? No. In his characteristic style, he has hit Modi hard and hit him where it would hurt most.

His brutal, unsparing criticism is a reminder to Modi that if his government can perform on the toughest parameter of governance — which is eradication of corruption in high places — it can certainly rev up to handle non-performance on economic, political and foreign policy fronts.

Updated Date: May 10, 2016 07:43 AM

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