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Reform doubt in Congress

New Delhi, Aug. 2: The Congress is beginning to have second thoughts about the big-ticket reforms the UPA government is trying to work on, with the Left out of the way.

The party, gung-ho about pushing reforms in the first flush of the trust vote victory, has begun weighing the political “losses and gains” accruing from them.

To start with, a Congress cabinet minister said the government may as well abandon the plan to pass the insurance, banking and pension reforms bills since it does not have the numbers to push them through Parliament.

In the Lok Sabha, it would have to organise a trust vote kind of operation while in the Rajya Sabha, the UPA is considerably short of a majority.

The BJP has said it will not co-operate with the ruling coalition on reforms.

Within the UPA, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the DMK have opposed the move, saying it will “hurt” the interests of their primary constituents in the coming elections. The DMK had put its foot down on divestment in Neyveli Lignite, a PSU in Tamil Nadu.

Congress sources said they weren’t “100 per cent” sure of the Samajwadi Party. “They have a way of sailing with the general political drift. If they see their competitors and adversaries like the RJD and BSP vehemently opposing reforms in Parliament, they will start looking for a fig leaf to couch their dissent, although fundamentally we know they have no problem,” a source said.

Secondly, sections of the Congress questioned the political “expediency” of prioritising reforms so close to Assembly polls, billed as a dry run for the big 2009 battle.

“We were presented with a fait accompli on the nuclear deal by the Prime Minister. The party had no choice but to back him after that and put its best foot forward to see it didn’t fail the trust test. But on reforms, our endeavour will be to see that some balance is maintained and we don’t fall into the India Shining trap that ensnared the NDA,” a general secretary said.

Sources recalled that in 2004, after a debate on whether to project the protagonist of its poll campaign as a “gareeb” (poor) or an “aam” (common) person, the Congress opted for the latter hoping its message against the BJP’s “feel good” celebration would gel with the middle classes as well.

The Congress’s success in several urban constituencies, including hard-core BJP ones, proved the tagline worked in an expanded constituency.

“Now, we have to see which issues weigh more with the middle classes: price rise or the deal and reforms. Until two months ago, our surveys in the capital showed inflation was the overwhelming issue,” a Delhi MP said.

Sources said while they were convinced the Manmohan-Montek Singh Ahluwalia-P. Chidambaram triumvirate would try and push all the “doable” reforms measures through executive orders, their “advice” was if there was to be divestment in the public sector units, the government’s stakes should be “offloaded” without job cuts and with the guarantee of security.

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