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Very Much His Own Man

That's disinvestment minister Arun Shourie, whose crusading zeal makes colleagues uncomfortable

Very Much His Own Man
Jitender Gupta
Very Much His Own Man
He is unarguably the most feared member of the Vajpayee cabinet. Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie, by the very description of his job, has to step on the toes of some of his ministerial colleagues. Virtually every minister resents selling off PSUs controlled by his ministry. But Shourie, who has set an ambitious disinvestment target of Rs 50,000 crore, has been pushing towards his goal, riding roughshod over whosoever steps in his path. The upshot is that some cabinet colleagues have been humiliated and the party image has taken a beating. But this does not seem to concern Shourie.

The Arun Shourie versus Ram Naik tussle over the sale of BPCL has been fairly well chronicled. So too are his differences with Pramod Mahajan over the disinvestment of BSNL. Ananth Kumar, who was then tourism minister, was at the receiving end as Shourie personally penned an expose on ITDC and its mismanagement.

But Shourie's enthusiasm, according to party insiders, has been disastrous for the party. Says a party strategist: "If ministers get exposed, the party gets exposed." Yet, no one is in a position to hit back as Shourie is the toast of the corporate world. Moreover, his personal honesty and integrity remain unquestioned. Besides, as former BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy says, "The government is, after all, committed to disinvestment."

One minister describes Shourie approaching his task with the same zeal he showed as a journalist. "He is a crusader and does not brook any opposition, whereas a politician has to accommodate more interests." Right now, he has the best of both worlds—he is a minister who routinely writes lengthy columns arguing his point of view. Bureaucrats are also extremely miffed at Shourie's style of functioning. One of them told Outlook: "Before you sell something, you try to dress it up. But the disinvestment ministry seems to be undressing each PSU it proposes to sell."

But more than anyone else, it is the RSS which is feeling let down by Shourie. Says a senior RSS functionary: "We miscalculated on Arun Shourie. We thought he was an upright man who was ideologically committed. We were stupid. We should have seen that he would be equally committed to the free market. Now it's clear that he is very much his own man."

In all fairness to Shourie, his job sets him on a collision course with the RSS which is against any disinvestment that "would hurt labour, create a monopoly or involve a strategic sector". That seems to cover almost everything and were Shourie to go by RSS definitions, he would not disinvest at all!

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