The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong scanner on divestment

New Delhi, Sept. 17: Having declared opposition to disinvestment of oil majors Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum, Congress president Sonia Gandhi today appointed a panel to look into disinvestment even as the party’s economic experts continued to make a strong case for reforms.

A panel headed by Manmohan Singh will look into the specifics of every disinvestment proposal, sources said. “Our experience is that there are wheels within wheels in the way the Vajpayee government is going about the disinvestment process. So we are unable to take a blanket stand for or against it,” explained a senior Congress Working Committee member.

The political component in the Congress is bitterly opposed to the disinvestment process and has pleaded with Sonia to adopt a sharp stand against it. This lobby, which includes Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Vayalar Ravi, Shivraj Patil, Motilal Vora and Ram Niwas Mirdha, feels that the Congress stands to gain if it opposes disinvestment. Pranab had even predicted that the Vajpayee regime may face a survival threat if it goes ahead with suggestions by disinvestment minister Arun Shourie.

The pro-reforms lobby of Manmohan, Jairam Ramesh, Kamal Nath and several chief ministers of Congress-ruled states is cautioning Sonia against going all out to block disinvestment. According to them, this would ruin the Congress’ credibility in the eyes of multinationals and captains of industry. It would also be hypocrisy and duplicity on the part of the party to have a “rethink” on reforms, these leaders say. After all, at the Bangalore plenary, the Congress think-tank had said in its policy papers that it would continue disinvestment as part of a “policy matter” if the party is voted to power.

The All India Congress Committee’s 11-member panel on disinvestment is sharply divided on the issue with both camps well represented in it. Those in the panel with strong reservations about disinvestment include Vora, Mirdha, Patil, Margaret Alva, K.M. Khan, and Ahmad Patel. As part of balancing act, Sonia has also inducted Manmohan, Kamal Nath, Jairam Ramesh and Pawan Bansal of the other camp in the panel.

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