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Agenda agreed without antics
Sonia elected alliance chief

New Delhi, May 26: The basic framework for the new administration to begin the job of governing was put in place tonight when the coalition and the Left that is providing support from outside agreed on a common minimum programme.

Expected to be released tomorrow, the programme was finalised at a four-hour meeting without an almighty public row erupting over contentious issues such as divestment of government shares from companies owned by it.

The Left and the Congress that leads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) have differences over it, as they have on other issues as well, but these have not been allowed to come in the way of arriving at a broad consensus.

At the meeting, Sonia Gandhi was elected chairperson of the UPA and was authorised to appoint a convener and a spokesperson. She will also head the committee which will coordinate between the alliance and the Left.

Agreement on the agenda of governance at the very first meeting of the alliance after the swearing-in was possible because of the preparatory work done before. Today’s was the sixth draft.

After the meeting at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s house, CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said the partners had arrived at a “broad consensus”. “Though there may be some areas of difference, by and large we will endorse it tomorrow,” Yechury said.

The Left will not sign the programme, which means it is not committing ownership, but will only “endorse” it.

One key area of contention was the public sector. The adopted programme says that generally, profit-making companies will not be privatised. All privatisation will be considered on a transparent, consultative and case-by-case basis.

So-called navratnas, that include companies like ONGC and Gail, will remain in the public sector. But these companies will be allowed to raise resources from the capital market, a euphemism for divestment.

The second draft of the programme, details of which had come out earlier, had 16 pages. Some changes could have been made to the 23-page sixth draft that was placed before the UPA meeting, but most leaders said there was a “broad consensus” on this version and the final document would more or less reflect that.

Three paragraphs have been added to the second draft on labour laws. Legislation — other than the Industrial Disputes Act — that creates an inspector raj will be re-examined and procedures harmonised and streamlined. It says rights and benefits earned by workers will not be taken away.

A major addition is a commitment to pilot the oft-aborted bill reserving a third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and Assemblies for women.

Sonia Gandhi has always supported it — a women’s delegation met her today to press for the legislation — as has the Left. It appears alliance partner Laloo Prasad Yadav, who wanted a quota for backward classes within the women’s quota, has had to fall in line.

Agreement was reached to move the bill in its present form — 33 per cent reservation.

A second addition, though not as contentious, is the nuclear issue. The agenda commits the government to a credible nuclear weapons programme. At the same time, it will evolve demonstrable and verifiable confidence-building measures with nuclear neighbours.

Congress ally Telengana Rashtra Samiti’s demand for a separate state was another fractious point where the Left, which generally opposes bifurcation, has had to compromise.

The second draft had made a general mention of another states reorganisation committee. The final document is likely to say: “The UPA government will consider the demand for the formation of a Telengana state at an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus.”

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