Clatter of plates but no food yet


Journalist turned politician Arun Shourie

As a ravenous nation whose appetite was whetted by promises of a sumptuous meal awaits, there are early signs that the plate may not be as full or even as delicious as all the clanking going on in the kitchen might suggest. I am talking about India and the appetizers served by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Admittedly, it is still early days for the prime minister whose government completed six months only 12 days ago. It is unfair to hand down judgments on his performance. It has been my case that we must give Modi at least five years to succeed or fail. For India’s sake, let him succeed beyond expectations. That said, it is perfectly valid to wonder whether what will eventually emerge from Modi’s kitchen will be worth the wait.

Always trust a poet to supply distilled wisdom as so tellingly quoted by journalist turned politician Arun Shourie during an interaction with the editors of the Indian Express newspaper, which he once presided over. Responding to a question about the Modi government and its performance Shourie, who is, in fact, very much of the same broad political persuasion as Modi and is a former minister from the earlier BJP government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, said, “The general consensus seems to be that when all is said and done, more is said than done.”

He then quoted the poet Akbar Illahabadi to say, “Platon ke aane ki awaaz to aa rahi hai magar khana nahi aa raha. (The clatter of approaching plates can be heard but there is no sign of food).” As I said, it is unfair to make that assessment yet about the Modi government but the fact that it is being made and being made by an insider in the know with an independent mind is a cause for concern. In another six months or so people will begin to look beyond Modi’s masterful constructs about good governance and development being the main guiding principles of his administration and ask all the unpleasant questions.

No one knows it better than the prime minister that the distance from promise to performance is not just long but is full of slippery slopes. The Indian electorate is never captive and will become tired of glib sloganeering faster than what the new government might like.

Shourie’s observation that there seems to be general consensus that “when all is said and done, more is said than done” stems from the tendency of grandiloquence routinely displayed by the prime minister personally when it comes to laying out what India can expect from his government. If intention were action, I would be jogging around the event horizon of a black hole every morning and yet would return to normal life.

There was a view among many that Shourie might get picked up again to head an important ministry by the new prime minister. That has not happened. However, what Shourie is saying are not the sentiments of a man slighted but someone of deep political convictions genuinely pointing out potential vulnerabilities. Shourie also spoke of the “fog of self-satisfaction” that surrounds the government which is made denser by an extolling media.

Shourie is certainly no camp follower but as someone who has enjoyed an extraordinary perch on the rise of the right of the center polity it would be useful to pay attention to what he is saying about the Modi government. One trivial takeaway from his comments would be to say that by making those he has effectively foreclosed any option of becoming a minister again. That is, of course, the least of anyone’s concerns.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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