The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM ponders Bhel breach

New Delhi, June 29: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is “worried” about the Left’s intransigence on the proposed Bhel divestment, official sources said.

As the CPM’s Prakash Karat and the CPI’s D. Raja ruled out a “trade-off” on the government proposal to offload 10 per cent of its stake, sources said Singh was concerned about several issues. “This kind of constant negative rhetoric does damage,” a source said.

First, if such an “attitude” persists, it would be virtually impossible for the government to do basic policy-planning without looking over its shoulder.

Second, the prospective entry of Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury into the Rajya Sabha signals that the CPM is poised for a “frontal confrontation” in Parliament.

“These inductions send a major signal and a departure from the past thinking which held parliamentary democracy to be secondary to party politics. The Karat school subscribes to a more visible part in Parliament and this we are going to see in the monsoon session,” a source said.

The CPM yesterday decided to send Brinda and Yechury to the Rajya Sabha from Bengal, though neither is a resident of the state.

The sources said that as of now, the government sees no opening to try and work out a resolution because Bhel unions are controlled by the CPM-backed Citu.

Besides, while interacting in small groups, most Left leaders “appreciate” the rationale behind limited divestment of public sector units as in the case of Bhel.

“But the central committee is problematic because each member has a vote. So if there is one vote for say, the farmers’ group, it probably means it is a vote against divestment of any measure,” a source said.

While the sources ruled out a rethink on the Bhel decision, they recalled how Singh had played “conciliator” in the past, balancing the interests of the Left with the motivation to keep reforms on the fast track.

The Left has announced that scaling down divestment from 10 per cent to 5 per cent will not help. The official thinking also is that “a 2 or 5 per cent divestment will not be enough to gain anything as against a 10 or 20 per cent one which enables the government to plough back the remittances in another PSU or the social sector”.

While a “trade-off” was effected earlier when the Centre agreed to retain the existing EPF rate and the Left allowed more FDI in telecom and civil aviation, even the government does not see the prospect of one in the case of Bhel.

“The Left had to address its core constituency of the middle-class and PSU employees. The Prime Minister appreciated this political imperative and against all economic advice, he conceded their demand. It was purely a political decision. In this case, we are trying to figure out what the compulsions are, apart from the trade union pressure,” a source said.

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