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BJP allies fire Reliance salvo

New Delhi, Feb. 20: For the second day running, two BJP allies — the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) — hit out at the Centre’s divestment policy and charged it with “playing into the hands of “Reliance”.

The dividing line between the treasury and Opposition benches in the Lok Sabha blurred as the National Democratic Alliance partners persisted with their attack on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and disinvestment minister Arun Shourie.

The Opposition clapped and thumped tables, while members of the Cabinet and BJP MPs squirmed. Not a voice was heard defending the government. “It is clear the government is playing into the hands of Reliance,” said Samata MP Prabhunath Singh.

JD(U)’s Devendra Prasad Yadav said the Centre’s “only aim seems to be to make Reliance a beneficiary”. Samata’s Raghunath Jha added: “The government is determined to help Reliance.”

The issues in contention were the divestment of two public sector undertakings — oil majors HPCL and BPCL — and the government’s overall selloff policy. Yesterday, besides the Samata and the Dal (U), the Shiv Sena, too, had launched a similar attack.

As the NDA allies ranted against the ruling BJP, the Opposition patted them on the back, saying it was high time that they quit such an “unholy” alliance. “I congratulate the members for taking such a stand. They have made a mistake joining the NDA government and they have realised it,” said senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee.

Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha said: “I hope these members will stick to their stand and not succumb to any pressure.”

Usually, such comments from the Opposition triggers angry responses from the treasury bench members. But not today. Emboldened by the treasury benches’ silence and the Opposition’s applause, Prabhunath Jha took on V.K. Malhotra, BJP’s spokesperson in Parliament.

When Malhotra objected to the charge that his party was “selling the country”, Jha said: “When you are selling such valuable assets, what is left of the country'”

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