Editorial: Speaking truth to power

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Published: October 29, 2015 12:36:37 AM

Forget ‘Congress+cow’, focus on Shourie’s big point

While Arun Shourie’s description of the NDA as ‘Congress-plus-cow’ sent BJP leaders into a tizzy, poor journalism is mostly to blame. As always, Shourie was critical of the government, but this particular remark at a book launch-discussion was partly in jest; indeed, the BJP would have enjoyed the moderator’s comment after Shourie finished—“this is what happens when you keep Arun Shourie out of the Cabinet!”, he exclaimed loudly. In any case, with investment continuing to slow, and most of the large tax disputes of the UPA period unresolved, it is difficult for even those well disposed towards the government to proclaim that all is well though everyone recognises that even a perfectly functioning government would take years to clean the mess the UPA left behind, from crony capitalism to stuck projects and stretched banks and stressed corporate balance sheets.

Indeed, what was being offered was really good advice. Since it was former Business Standard editor TN Ninan’s book that was being launched, partly as a tribute, Shourie said the media had to learn from him the art of speaking truth to power, of dissecting every statement, of every government. The R2 lakh crore that the government said would accrue to states as royalty from coal mines after the auctions, Shourie quoted Business Standard as reporting, would happen over 30 years and if all the mines were to operate at full capacity—a fact that got glossed over in all the hyperbole. Indeed, given how businessmen routinely give governments 9-out-of-10 marks at most public events and crib in private, it is important for government to listen to those who criticise it publicly.

When MAT was levied on FIIs, the government was dismissive of those in the media who criticised the move, but when FIIs started moving out, it had to eat humble pie and withdraw the tax. Similarly, had the government heeded the advice on the land bill, to let the UPA’s land legislation be, while getting BJP states to pass friendly land legislation—and get the President to approve this under Article 254(2)—it would have been saved a lot of embarrassment as well as a critical session of Parliament; indeed, the ill-advised move allowed the Congress to unite the Opposition and made the ‘suit-boot-ki-sarkaar’ tag stick. The BJP may be right when it talks of an orchestrated protest in writers returning their awards, but surely it makes sense for it to control its motor-mouths and to find ways to lower the temperature—including getting the PM to quickly react to critical events like Dadri—since it cannot hope to get its legislative agenda through without the cooperation of the Opposition. Keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer.

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