The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani selloff envoy

New Delhi, Sept. 5: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has authorised his deputy to hold one-to-one meetings with protagonists of the disinvestment drama to ensure that a resolution is reached before the Cabinet committee on disinvestment meets on Saturday.

The meeting’s one-point agenda is disinvestment in the two public sector oil giants — Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum. Sources said the meeting can be deferred if no solution is in sight by September 7.

L.K. Advani’s diplomatic mission began this morning when he met disinvestment minister Arun Shourie. The deputy Prime Minister expressed the BJP and the RSS’ apprehensions about the impact of privatisation of the oil sector on the country’s economy and security.

Advani’s surmise was Shourie had “softened” his stand. But the disinvesment minister did push for reforms at a meeting in Mumbai in the evening, playing the “China card”. ( )

Advani’s meeting with defence minister George Fernandes was inconclusive. Sources said Fernandes, who is against the oil sector divestment, was apparently cold to one proposal — offloading 25 to 26 per cent shares of oil PSUs to the public instead of outright divestment.

Advani is also likely to meet petroleum minister Ram Naik. Like Fernandes, Naik has also taken a stand opposed to Shourie’s.

Sources said Vajpayee was apprised of the views expressed by various quarters. Human resources development minister M.M. Joshi conveyed to him that the disinvestment policy should be reviewed keeping in mind the “energy security” issue.

Joshi reportedly referred to some multinationals’ reluctance to release oil when the government wanted it during the 1965 and 1971 wars. He also pointed out that since agriculture was dependent on oil-based energy, it was “unwise” to hand over the sector to private hands.

Other views held that while the government retain oil PSUs, the law could be amended to facilitate their functional autonomy and avert political interference.

Sources said Fernandes was gaining the edge in “this battle” and Shourie was “getting marginalised” in the disinvestment committee. Finance minister Jaswant Singh is on Fernandes’ side. As for Advani, although Shourie quoted him as saying the “set agenda should be adhered to”, sources said he, like Vajpayee, believes in evolving a consensus.

But BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, a former disinvestment minister, has supported Shourie on the party’s behalf.

n See Business Telegraph

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