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Left burps and digests panel purge
- PM hints at no rethink but CPM expresses 'satisfaction' after breakfast

New Delhi, Oct. 1: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today offered Left leaders chutney with their idlis all right, but not as they might have expected.

Singh laid out a lavish breakfast ' bread, butter and honey, fish fry and chicken fry, dosas and uttappam with lassi, pineapple juice and coconut water to wash it down, not to forget the idlis and chutney ' but gave his guests no assurance that the Planning Commission's decision to dissolve all consultative groups would be reversed.

The plan panel decision yesterday had taken the Left by surprise. Although it met their demand for removal of foreign experts in these groups, the purge also claimed economists ideologically inclined to the Left.

When the matter was raised over breakfast, the Prime Minister merely said the commission had to take a decision on the controversy. He would review it later and consider how the process of consultation is to be carried out in future.

Yesterday, RSP leader Abani Roy had joked: 'We will have to see how good a chutney (explanations) is served tomorrow for the idlis (decisions) announced today.'

After the breakfast, the Left had no choice but to express satisfaction.

'We are satisfied with the decision,' said politburo member Sitaram Yechury at the end of the one-hour meeting, breaking his party's silence on the plan panel move. General secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet was also present at the talks.

This is the first time the government has signalled to the Left that it will not be pushed beyond a limit. The CPM, realising this, has decided to let matters rest.

Yechury said the CPM did not raise the plan panel issue. It was CPI leader D. Raja who did.

The Planning Commission decision has hit the CPM hardest. Five of their economists and Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe were in the groups that have been scrapped. The CPM had wanted 'its people' in the commission to be in a position to influence government decisions.

But Yechury claimed today that the exit of the Left from the commission does not matter. 'We have 61 MPs. The government cannot take any decision without us,' he said.

The CPM leader distanced himself from Pandhe, who had blasted the government last night saying it had shown no courtesy to the Left. Asked about the comment, Yechury said: 'You have to ask Pandhe about what he said. This is not the party's stand.'

Congress sources said plan panel deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia had worked out the 'formula' in consultation with the Prime Minister and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh. Ramesh had worked with the Left while formulating the common minimum programme. The leaders then informed Congress president and alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Whoever thought up the plan, it could not have been implemented without political approval.

The decision not to yield to the Left's arm-twisting came in the midst of a general perception that the government will find it difficult to pursue economic reforms with the communists breathing down its neck. The Opposition BJP has been predicting the economy's doom because of the Left's dominant presence.

Sources in the Congress said the government felt the need to send out a strong signal to international investors, the stock market as well as its political friends and foes that reforms were not in jeopardy.

The Planning Commission could have bowed to the Left fiat and removed foreign experts. But this would have only strengthened the perception that the Left would not allow the government to pursue economic reforms.

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