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Reforms on course, insists Jaitley

Calcutta, Sept. 8: A day after the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government shelved its disinvestment programme, BJP leader Arun Jaitley today accentuated the government’s beleaguered profile by seeking to create space for opposition from NDA partners.

However, Jaitley, a BJP general secretary, insisted that the freeze should not be interpreted as a setback to economic reforms which, he said, would continue apace.

Jaitley said the government had put off the strategic sale of key oil, telecom and energy units because it wanted to evaluate the critical observations of defence minister George Fernandes and a few other NDA partners in “proper perspective”.

“Delay in taking a decision should not be regarded as a pointer to difference of opinion,” Jaitley said. “The process of reforms would continue, it cannot be altered.”

In the biggest-ever policy battle to confront the NDA government, Jaitley is counted among the supporters of Arun Shourie’s disinvestment drive.

On a visit to the city in connection with the BJP’s zonal conference, Jaitley spent the Sunday explaining the government’s stand on disinvestment as well compulsions at a meeting with industrialists grouped under the Indian Chamber of Commerce and later at a news conference.

Fernandes’ cautionary view that disinvestment would lead to creation of private monopolies, Jaitley said, was “important”.

“I want to say emphatically that the reforms process would continue,” Jaitley said. “There is no difference of opinion as the views expressed by Fernandes against creation of private monopolies were important.”

Jaitley sought to buttress his position by asserting that the Vajpayee government’s track record in economic liberalisation was “impeccable”.

“The government will just have to go ahead and do it when the issue at stake is disinvestment. There would be roadblocks at various points of decision-making. But that is the democracy tax for the government to pay,” he told the industrialists.

A debate on a critical subject like disinvestment, Jaitley said, could always have two or more views that eventually would be reconciled in the Cabinet.

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