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Cancun glow & selloff blow on Aruns

New Delhi, Sept. 18: The BJP’s tale of two Aruns has seen Jaitley emerge as the nation’s darling while Shourie has received a major setback with the Supreme Court stalling the privatisation of two oil majors.

Jaitley was never considered a people’s minister and would always keep a distance from the hoi polloi even during his stint as BJP general secretary. The lawyer-turned-politician would be driven in his Lancer to his plush air-conditioned office next to the BJP headquarters, with a retinue of secretaries and peons waiting on him.

But the Cancun meeting has brought about a stunning turnaround in Jaitley’s fortunes. The law and commerce minister was one of the most visible faces and articulate voices at the fifth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation that ended in failure on Sunday night.

Pleased with Jaitley’s “tough and skilful negotiating stance” that enabled India to emerge as the “leader of the developing countries”, the BJP and allied outfits have feted him.

Proof of Jaitley’s new-found popularity is the BJP kisan morcha’s decision to receive him at the airport tomorrow. His first port of call will be the party headquarter at 11, Ashoka Road where a huge felicitation awaits.

“He has become a symbol of the country’s sovereignty because he took the lead in the WTO summit to form a coalition of the developing countries and argue their case forcefully before the developed nations. He did not allow the nation's interests to be compromised whether it was in agriculture or trade,” a member of the farmers’ cell said.

More seasoned BJP members are not so enthusiastic, but say this is not because they are jealous but because there is a “need to make a more objective assessment” of the Cancun fallout. A member of the economic cell said Jaitley had been given a “thorough” brief and asked in particular to resist the pressure to allow market access to non-agricultural products or to open up the services sector.

He said the minister had initially said India should not appear to be trying to scuttle the summit and that “he seemed to favour unbundling of the Singapore issues (of investment, competition policy, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement)”.

But Jaitley was reminded by party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu that “it is an election year and we must not allow the Opposition to charge us with a sellout”.

The member added: “Jaitley executed our brief unerringly. Destiny favoured him because the atmosphere in Cancun was such that there was no… ground for compromise.”

The minister has never fought an election but was active in politics at Delhi University and a part of the anti-Emergency movement. “(This) ultimately allowed his political instincts to get the better of his cerebral ideas which tend to favour a free-market economy,” a former BJP ideologue once close to Jaitley said.

The BJP plans to incorporate the Cancun “success” as part of its campaign on economic issues in the coming elections. Sources said the thrust would be on how the country’s interests were safeguarded.

But the other Arun has had less luck with party and parivar. The apex court’s stalling of the sale of Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum on Tuesday has sparked whispers in the BJP. It is being asked if disinvestment minister Shourie had wrongly briefed attorney-general Soli Sorabjee or whether it was the latter’s own view that parliamentary approval was not required before putting up the companies for sale.

At the BJP’s national executive at Raipur, A.B. Vajpayee had said his government had no worries “jab Arun ka uday ho gaya hai (when the sun has risen)”. At the time it was not clear which Arun he meant: few can have any doubts now.

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