New Delhi, Aug. 31: The BJP is likely to support the Vajpayee government’s disinvestment policy whole-heartedly despite the reservations expressed by defence minister and NDA convener George Fernandes and a sections of the RSS.
Well-placed BJP sources said a statement would be issued on Monday which is expected to “analyse the policy and broadly support” the disinvestment drive without going into the merits and demerits of individual public sector units which were to be disinvested. The statement, sources hoped, would put an end to the doubts that were raised since Fernandes made public a letter he wrote to the Prime Minister.
In the letter, Fernandes asked for a meeting of “key” ministers to completely review the government’s disinvestment policy to guard against the “rich getting richer” and prevent private monopolies. He also requested that he should be invited to the next meeting of the Cabinet Committee of Disinvestments, of which he is not a member. The meeting is likely to be held on September 7, after Fernandes returns from his overseas tour.
The defence minister’s case was that absolute privatisation of strategic areas like the oil sector could threaten the country’s national oil security like it had during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, when the private oil sector refused to cooperate with the government. His note of dissent was expressed in the context of the proposed strategic sale of oil majors HPCL and BPCL.
BJP sources argued that Fernandes’ argument would not cut ice because four years ago the government had kept oil out of the strategic sector while framing its disinvestment policy.
P.N. Vijay, the newly-appointed convener of the BJP’s economic cell, said: “Disinvestment of PSUs is the cornerstone of the NDA’s economic policy and while the RSS and its affiliate, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, may have their views, we will withstand their pressure.” Vijay said HPCL and BPCL were already part of the disinvestment package, rendering opposition to their sale “unnecessary”.
While the BJP had cast its lot with the government on disinvestment, the RSS supported Fernandes. RSS sources said: “We don’t want disinvestment as an economic policy because while you have capitalism, socialism and communism, you have nothing called disinvestmentism. The government needs money, so it is selling off its family silver. Functioning family silver can be sold but that doesn’t mean strategic areas like oil, defence and atomic (sic) should be put up for sale.”
But the RSS sources admitted they had little hope from the government after the “manner in which the IPCL sale was pushed through to benefit one industrial house”. At best, sources said, the government could backtrack a bit and adopt a policy of “strategic displacement”, which meant instead of disinvestment, shares ranging between five and 10 per cent could be liquidated and sold in the market at jacked-up prices.
Interestingly, despite the BJP’s unqualified support, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie was aware of the RSS’ pulls and pressures and sought to allay the apprehensions about disinvestment in a meeting of the BJP’s think-tank on August 24. Shourie claimed there was a “consensus in practice” and stressed that the implementation of the government’s disinvestment policy had benefited taxpayers, the economy, the stock market and employees.