The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Arun turns selloff gun on George
- Disinvestment minister deals China card

Mumbai, Sept. 5: Turning the “strategic interest” argument on its head, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie today raised the China bogey to press for the selloff of oil giants BPCL and HPCL.

Ahead of Saturday’s meeting of the Cabinet committee on disinvestment that will decide the issue, the minister argued that if the sale of oil companies was blocked, it would give China the upper hand and create a security risk for India.

“China does not consider India as a rival, it considers India as a nuisance,” he said. “It (China) is arming Pakistan, it has taken control of islands in Myanmar. The Chinese strategy is explicit about the Northeast,” Shourie warned.

Defence minister George Fernandes, who is demanding a rethink on the selloff, has in the past described China as “potential threat number one”. Fernandes was also believed to have raised the point that disinvestment of oil companies could harm the country’s “strategic interest”.

Shourie refuted this today, telling a group of young businessmen at the Indian Merchants’ Chamber: “My good friend George has never raised the security issue.”

“Many arms shipments from China meant for the Northeast have been detained by our personnel,” he said, arguing that if the reforms process is derailed, India would fall behind China by 25 years and the gap would be unbridgeable.

China started the reforms process 25 years ago, while we have had our share in two short bursts during the Rajiv Gandhi era and Narasimha Rao’s government.

“A great deal is at stake and we are at a critical stage,” he said. “We keep facing these squalls, but unlike before, the Opposition and the labour are keeping quiet.” Shourie mentioned that socio-religious groups have joined the issue but refrained from taking names. The Sangh parivar is opposed to the selloff.

Indicating that the trouble was from within the NDA, the minister said: “Toofan main hai kashti, toh sab bachain, Agar kashti mein hai toofan toh kaun bachai' (If the boat is caught in a storm, then people would try to save each other, but if the storm is in the boat itself, who can save them')”

On Saturday’s meeting, Shourie said: “My ministry shall present our facts on HPCL, BPCL case and I am told that my colleague, the petroleum minister Ram Naik, has a formidable presentation ready. He has good reasons for that. We will do our best.”

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